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Monday, May 16, 2011

EDITORIAL 16.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month may 16, edition 000833, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.



































































































It's unthinkable that a party should be in power longer than the Berlin Wall existed, that too in a parliamentary democracy. Yet, the Left Front, led by the CPI(M), was in power in West Bengal for close to 35 years, perhaps more by default in the absence of a viable alternative and a robust Opposition party than by design. The same logic would apply to the Congress winning election after election at the national level, barring the few occasions when the people of India had an alternative choice which they considered to be viable and hence to be taken seriously. To that extent, it is the responsibility of both voters and the political opposition to prevent stagnation on account of the same party or alliance remaining in power for too long, or longer than is good for a State or the nation.

This is best exemplified by the situation in West Bengal where the Left Front took remarkable initiatives towards governance reforms during its first two terms in power, implementing extensive land reforms and introducing a structured and elected panchayati raj system that was to later become a model for the rest of the country. It would also be instructive to remember that when the CPI(M) came to power in 1977, the administration was in a shambles after the wasted years of the Congress regime headed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Pulling the State out of that morass was by itself a gigantic task. The decay that set in during the subsequent years was only to be expected: Unchallenged authority can, and does, lead to lethargy and absolute power is known to pave the path to arrogance and worse. All this and more was seen in ample measure in West Bengal. After this summer's Assembly election, hopefully a new start and a fresh beginning will be made with the CPI(M) and its allies trounced, and decisively so, by the Trinamool Congress.

As Chief Minister of a State that is in desperate need of good governance, Ms Mamata Banerjee has her task cut out. If her various statements and her party manifesto are any indication, she has an ambitious agenda, which by itself is good. However, she would be well-advised to focus on three fronts where success can cause a dramatic turnaround for West Bengal. First, the financial mess in which the State finds itself needs to be sorted out. Estimates of West Bengal's debt burden vary between Rs 2 lakh crore and Rs 5 lakh crore; whatever the real figure, it's humongous and no State can survive the burden of such a debt. Ms Banerjee should work towards reducing the collective debt by adopting measures that may appear to be harsh in the short-term but will be beneficial in the medium and long-term. In brief, West Bengal can no longer afford a populist or wasteful Government. Second, she should work towards attracting big ticket investments in the manufacturing sector. This is easier said than done, but entirely possible. West Bengal needs factories; to deny this fact is to repudiate the reality. Third, there is no reason to disbelieve Ms Banerjee when she says her party believes in 'change' and not 'vendetta'.

The State has suffered tremendously on account of political violence for far too long and the cycle of killings followed by revenge killings must be broken, now. She should enforce peace, if necessary with an iron fist.







The Congress-led UDF in Kerala has managed to wrest power from the CPI(M)-led LDF but the victory is absolutely lackluster. It could win only 72 seats in the 140-member Assembly, just two seats above the half-way mark. There is not much for the Congress to cheer even in this victory because its own tally stands at just 38 though it contested in 82 seats. The credit for this unconvincing UDF victory goes to the Muslim League which won 20 of the 24 seats it contested through an unscrupulously executed strategy of community consolidation. The defeat in Kerala, along with the devastation in West Bengal, has led to the confinement of Left's governmental presence to tiny Tripura, but comrades in Kerala can at least feel relieved that they have been able to avoid a huge humiliation. The LDF bagged a total of 68 seats in a photo-finish race, keeping the Congress on the tip of anxiety till the result for the last seat was declared. The Congress has won the election but it is the CPI(M) which has emerged as the single largest party by winning 47 of the 93 seats it contested. However, there is nothing for the Marxist party to be proud of in this achievement as the entire credit goes to 87-year-old hardliner leader VS Achuthanandan, whom the official reformist leadership has been trying to cut to size on every available opportunity. They even tried to deny him a ticket in the election but were forced to revise that decision and request him to lead the Left's campaign in the face of State-wide protests. Despite all those efforts of his detractors, Mr Achuthanandan led the Left in a vigorous campaign, creating what pundits now call the 'VS factor' which pushed the Congress and its allies into the defensive where they could not get an upper hand at any point of time during electioneering.

The Kerala BJP would now have to do some serious introspection on why its dream of opening its account in the State Assembly did not be materialise in this election also. At the same time, four small parties in the State lost their electoral significance by failing to win even a single seat. However, the biggest challenge ahead is for the Congress as it prepares to form a Government in which all its allies with representatives in the House will have to be accommodated. Major UDF partners have already started staking claims for important Cabinet berths. The Left has said that it is not interested in grabbing power through unethical means but the Congress cannot bank on that, given its narrow margin of majority. Also, the road ahead for the Congress and its allies will not be smooth as an Opposition almost as big as the ruling side will be waiting to take on the Government at every wrong step.









Given India's archaic laws and ageing leadership, it is unlikely that even if we can extradite terrorists from Pakistan, we will be able to convict them in a court of law.

Given below is a list of India's 10 most-wanted criminals, all of whom are living in Pakistan, alongwith a description of the crimes they have committed.

·  Maulana Azhar Masood: Leader of Jaish-i-Mohammad, he is held responsible for the 2001 attack on Parliament. He is also wanted for an attack on the Jammu & Kashmir legislature that was carried out on October 1, 2001, in which 38 people were killed.

·  Hafiz Mohammad Saeed: Co-founder of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, he is also wanted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack. Currently, he operates from Muridke town, near Lahore.

·  Dawood Ibrahim: An underworld don, he is accused of planning and financing 13 explosions in Mumbai in 1993 in which almost 300 people died. He is also wanted in several other cases relating to illegal arms supply, counterfeiting, drug trade, funding alleged criminals, smuggling and murder. He lives in Karachi.

·  Chhota Shakeel: A key associate of Dawood Ibrahim, he is wanted for murder, extortion, abduction and for blackmailing top businessmen and film stars. He is believed to a spy for the ISI. He now lives in Karachi.

·  "Tiger" Ibrahim Memon: Along with Dawood Ibrahim, he is the other prime accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts. He is also wanted for murder, extortion, kidnapping, terrorism and smuggling arms and explosives. He lives in Karachi and travels frequently to Dubai.

·  Ayub Memon: Brother of Ibrahim Memon, he is also an accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. He alleged helped Ibrahim Memon carry out the blasts. He is wanted in cases of terrorism and smuggling. He also lives in Karachi.

·  Abdul Razzak: Accused of involvement in the Mumbai blasts. He is wanted in cases of terrorism and arms smuggling. He lives in Karachi.

·  Syed Salahuddin: Head of Hizbul Mujahideen, he has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir. He lives in Muzaffarabad.

·  Ibrahim Athar: An associate of Maulana Azhar Masood, he was one of those who hijacked the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999. He lives in Bahawalpur.

·  Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri: A member of Harkat-ul-Ansar, which later became Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, he is also wanted in connection with the hijacking of IC-814. He lives in Karachi.

Now, the big question is can India bring these terrorists across the border so that they may be tried under Indian laws? Pakistan is clearly following a policy wherein its neighbour's enemy is its friend. How else can one explain the free reign enjoyed by so many of these terrorists in that country?

India may cry itself hoarse demanding that the aforementioned fugitives be handed over to the Government, but as we well know Pakistan's standard response will either be that the wanted individual is not a Pakistani citizen or that he/she does not live in Pakistan. Indeed, this was exactly their stand when Ajmal Kasab was arrested after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan's perverse policies towards India notwithstanding, it is also important to ensure that our own case files on these terror suspects remain up to date. Without impeccable records and strong, creditworthy evidence we will never be able to bring these terrorists to justice. The fact that India's criminal laws themselves are outdated, only makes matters worse. Proof of that lies in the multiple acquittals of several suspects who were charged for their roles in the 1998 Mumbai blasts as well as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Our laws were framed around 1863 when terrorism, as we know it today, did not exist. Using archaic laws to try modern day crimes is like pitting a bullock cart against an automobile.

Apart from an outdated criminal justice system, the other factor that plays against us as in the fight against terrorism, is our pseudo commitment to human rights, in the name of which the Indian judiciary has acquitted some more terrorists. I am certain that even if India manages to extradite some of the terrorists from Pakistan, they will possibly not be convicted as we attempt to make a show of human rights in the country.

Yet, in every other country national security trumps human rights concerns everyday. Take the US for example: The Guantánamo, Bay detention centre is still very much functioning despite a huge hue and cry from human rights defenders and other rights groups who have claimed that those held in that centre have been subject to human rights violations.

Located inside the US Naval Base on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the detention centre was was established in 2002 by former US President George W Bush to hold detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq. The detainment areas consist of three camps: Camp Delta (which includes Camp Echo), Camp Iguana, and Camp X-Ray, the last of which has been closed. Despite widespread condemnation for perpetrating human rights abuses, the detention camp currently holds at least 172 detainees. Even President Barack Obama who had promised to shut down the facility during his 2008 election campaign has since changed his mind.

India, however, continues to be a state that is perennially soft on terror. There is no point bringing the wanted fugitives back from Pakistan if we cannot have expedited trials for them. Take the Batla House incident for example: The 'encounter' happened in 2008 but it was not until this year that we were able to frame charges. Similarly, it took 13 years for the trial of the1993 Mumbai blasts case to be completed. Unfortunately, our Government remains incapable of taking strong preemptive action to prevent terror attacks. We only indulge in big talk and our leaders including those from the military like to make grandiose statements but rarely to do they care to follow up.

It does not require great analytical skills to understand that our western neighbour is a rogue state. Official US documents from the Guantánamo bay detention centre, published by WikiLeaks, have revealed that US anti-terror experts were aware that Pakistani officials gave orders to terror operatives in India while at least one Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militant detained at Guantánamo was a direct ISI agent.

Yet, India has done nothing about any of this. This is because we are governed by ancient worthies, many of whom are in their seventies and eighties with literally one foot in the grave. Not a whole lot can be expected from them in terms of initiative or youthful motivation.

Little wonder then that countries with younger leaders, such as the US, the UK and France have taken greater political strides. Even in India, when we had younger leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, bold decisions were taken and implemented. This is no longer the case. Even if Pakistan does hand over the terrorists, do we have a clear policy of how to deal with them? Apart from condemning them or calling them cowards, our leaders must do a lot more to ensure that the terrorists are brought to justice. That is their job and they have to get it done.








The CPI(M) has fared better in Kerala than in West Bengal despite the LDF losing the Assembly election, although by a very narrow margin. In fact, the CPI(M) has won more seats than the Congress. But the credit for this startling performance goes to VS Achuthanandan and not his party which tried to pull him down till the last moment

The role of big-capital investment — or rather the need of it — in the era of globalisation was one of the main topics that had dominated the discussions at the 19th congress of the CPI(M) held in Coimbatore in March-April, 2008. It is now almost certain that the anti-thesis of this might in the focus at the 20th congress to be held next year. This perspective inversion is being necessitated by the Left's electoral devastation in West Bengal and its 'victory-in-defeat' in the Kerala election. In the 19th congress, general secretary Prakash Karat had led those discussions enthusiastically — with the pride emanating from the shadow partnership in the rule in Centre — but in 2012, he will be facing some tough questions.

On Friday, the CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala made history. It lost the election to the 13th Assembly but with the narrowest margin ever in the electoral history of the State — the Left won 68 seats in the 140-member Assembly while the tally of the Congress-led UDF was limited to 72, just one seat more than what it needed for absolute majority. Again, the Congress won the election but the CPI(M) emerged as the single largest party in the House with 47 seats whereas the Congress could win only 38 seats.

The Kerala Left had made this achievement mainly because of the efforts of one man: Octogenarian VS Achuthanandan. His whirlwind campaign across the State generated a 'VS effect' in the electorate, attracting thousands of people to each of his election meeting while even Ms Sonia Gandhi, Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Manmohan Singh had to be satisfied with thin crowds of listeners. His efforts had immediate impact among the grassroots comrades and supporters in districts where he was not popular. He instilled a new vigour in them.

Mr Achuthanandan's campaign focussing on the corruption in the UPA, the Congress and its allies in Kerala — which coincide with Mr Anna Hazare's agitation — pushed the Congress into the defensive and erased the remainders of anti-incumbency factor. This was perhaps the first election in Kerala where the ruling party had gone on the offensive and the Opposition had to defend itself. His emphasis on corruption could win sympathies even from the so-called apolitical middle class that generally refused to go with the Left. That made the battle even tougher for the Congress.

The 87-year-old Marxist, with more than seven decades of political experience, did all this for his party and the LDF despite the unscrupulous efforts of his detractors within the party — the neo-liberalist official leadership headed by State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan — to finish him off politically. They denied him ticket in the election (but the party now denies this). Mr Karat, who was to report at the Kerala State committee the Politbureau's decision to field Mr Achuthanandan in the polls, allegedly failed to — knowingly or otherwise — do that. The reason for denying ticket was his advanced age and health problems associated with it.

The working class comrades took the streets demanding reversal of the decision and this was done. The party also requested him to lead the campaign for the Left. Even after that Mr Pinarayi went on making veiled remarks against Mr Achuthanandan which could be read as messages about the necessity of voting against the LDF. But nothing worked, and Mr Achuthanandan's efforts got their intended result when the Congress and its allies stood on the tip of anxiety till the result in the last seat was declared.

Mr Achuthanandan's victory was not just in ensuring the defeat of the Left in Kerala to be 'decent' but he also saved the entire Left of India from total decimation. Had the result been a repeat of the 2001 election, where the UDF stormed to power with a 100-seat victory, Mr Karat would have been heading a non-entity by now. But this was not the first time Mr Karat had sided with the neo-liberalists in moves against Mr Achuthanandan. He had reportedly done it on the occasion of the demotion of Mr Achuthanandan from Politbureau to the central committee after he demanded action against Mr Pinarayi, when the CBI named him as an accused in the `374.5-crore SNC Lavalin corruption case.

Sitting in New Delhi, Mr Karat is thus facing pressures from the south and east simultaneously. The West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) had stopped listening to him long back. Now it is proved that he had failed to recognise the ground reality in Kerala, where his neo-liberalist comrades were eager to prepare ground for suspicious economic forces like lottery gamblers and real estate players in the name of the need of attracting big-capital investment. Through the victory the Left achieved under Mr Achuthanandan's leadership, the Kerala voters have proved that their conscience is not mystified by the 'capital-intensive' talks.

The West Bengal CPI(M) secretary had in a recent interview talked at length about how the party leadership there was not corrupt and how the leaders were adhering to austerity they had chosen for themselves. Reports from West Bengal show that the lower level leaders of the Left, however, were mired in corruption. In Kerala CPI(M), the situation is diametrically opposite. Here the leadership — the neo-liberal leadership — is alleged to be neck-deep in corruption and money lust while the grass roots leaders and cadre still want to remain puritans. The election result in Kerala is a true reflection of this sentiment.

All these issues would come up for discussions in the meetings at all levels in the party — from the branch committees to the State secretariat. The party cannot avoid considering these questions at the branch, local, area, district and State conferences and the party congress, where Mr Karat would be required to offer a lot of explanations. Rumours are rife that Mr Pinarayi might not be there in the chair of State secretary by the time of the next congress. In short, the new-age Marxist leaders of the Karat kind will have to listen intently to people like Mr Achuthanandan, the protector of the Indian Left's izzat in these elections.







The Schengen area, which guarantees free movement across and between 22 European Union members and three non-EU countries, has encountered unexpected difficulties in the wake of the protests that have swept West Asia and North Africa, and gained the moniker Arab Spring.

Furthermore, new rules may soon be adopted to allow member states to reinstate border checks.

France created a precedent when more than 25,000 Tunisians, who had fled to Italy to escape the 'democratic revolution' that Europe welcomed so cheerfully, decided to cross into France. Since they are illegal immigrants without money or documents necessary to reside in the EU, this left the Italian Government with something of a conundrum. Granting them refugee status involves committing to provide them with some form of support, however basic, whereas deporting them to their home country would be inhumane.

Eventually, the Italian Government found a solution: It issued them with temporary residence permits which allow the holders to move freely around the EU (excluding Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus), as well as through Schengen member states such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Since Tunisia is a former French colony and most Tunisians speak French, they logically decided to cross into France.

However, the French authorities intercepted them on trains and sent them back to Italy, outraging the Italians.


This created a trilateral conflict, with France and Italy trading accusations and also complaining to the European Commission in Brussels.

Twenty-five thousand immigrants is a drop in the ocean for Europe, which has a combined population of 400 million people. Furthermore, European leaders were lightning-fast to praise the Arab Spring, the very event that these Tunisians are fleeing.

"It is unacceptable that the arrival of a few tens of thousands of immigrants at the borders of countries which are among the largest in Europe and are founder members of European integration should serve as an excuse to question Schengen, the free movement of people and our common policy of freedom, security and justice. It is also unacceptable that this is so obviously happening as a result of highly populist anti-European pressures. All this sends a discouraging message, one which is deeply negative and contrary to the Europe that we need," said Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, chairman of the EU Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have sent a discouraging message, thereby showing once again that modern Europe is not prepared to back up its rhetoric with either action or funds.

As if to confirm this, the European Commission has now taken France's side in its quarrel with Italy, saying that under Article 25 of the Schengen Borders Code each member state "may exceptionally and immediately reintroduce border control at internal borders... when there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security."

It looks like the European Commission has yielded to Mr Sarkozy's pressure. He was acting from a purely populist standpoint. Back as France's Interior Minister, he forged his political career in his fight against illegal immigration.

In Italy, Umberto Bossi, who leads the Northern League party which calls for autonomy or independence for Northern Italy and is one of Mr Berlusconi's allies in the ruling coalition, said that Italy has become a French colony.

Bossi made his career by demanding the deportation of immigrants from Italy, in particular from its industrialised northern regions.

All this amounts to a serious potential for conflict that weighs heavily on Schengen countries ahead of June's EU Council meeting, where they are to consider admitting Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area.

France and Britain have long insisted that Romania must tighten control over its border with Moldova, while Sarkozy deported Roma Gypsies to Romania.

If Romania and Bulgaria are admitted to the Schengen zone, the decision is likely to be accompanied by numerous amendments to the Schengen Agreement that would seriously undermine the idea of the freedom of movement.

At the same time, the idea of reuniting Romania and Moldova, which is so popular in Bucharest, may well be denounced as a nationalist utopia.

The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.







The Scots have voted the Scottish National Party to power but are unlikely to endorse its call for independence. They know that an independent Scotland would be too vulnerable to the harsh financial and strategic realities of the world

I'd grown up with the assumption that Scotland was a poor, wee, deprived place that had never had a fair kick of the ball and could certainly never stand on its own two feet," said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, whose goal is an independent Scotland. He certainly doesn't believe that now — and the SNP finally won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in the election on May 5.

Mr Salmond first formed a Government four years ago, but that was a weak coalition in which the SNP had to bargain and compromise with the other parties. This time, with 69 out of 129 seats, Mr Salmond doesn't have to haggle. He can carry out his election promises, which include a referendum on Scottish independence.

If the voters said yes, that would be the end of the United Kingdom, the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England. Other things being equal, a majority of Scots might well vote for independence, but other things never are equal.

In the real world, many Scots are afraid that their small country, with only one-tenth of England's population, would be too vulnerable to the financial and strategic storms that shake the world. Opinion polls consistently show that no more than a quarter to a third of Scottish voters would vote yes in an independence referendum. Yet they voted the SNP into power. Why?

The main reason is that the Liberal Democratic vote collapsed in Scotland in this election. Quite a lot of those Scottish Lib Dems gave their votes to the SNP instead, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they support independence.

Since Mr Salmond has been canny enough to promise a referendum, they knew that they could vote yes to an SNP Government, and then say no to independence. He delivered sound Government in difficult circumstances over the past four years; why not give him another go?

The reality is that Salmond is unlikely to persuade the Scots to vote yes in his promised referendum, even if he postpones it until near the end of his term in the hope that he can cajole or manipulate more of them into backing independence. (The smart money is betting on 2015.) So there shouldn't be any big changes in Scotland as a result of this election — and yet it may hurt the country a lot, in the end.

Scottish separatists hate the analogy with Ireland, which they once held up as an example of how a small European country with few natural resources and a big but undercapitalised banking sector could do very well in the world. Now they just try to change the subject when Ireland comes up, but that's not the worst thing that could happen to Scotland.

The real danger is what would happen to Scotland if the separatists lose the forthcoming referendum but keep on trying. That's what happened in Quebec, where the separatists first came to the fore politically in the 1960s. They held and lost two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, but for half-a-century the prospect that there would eventually be a referendum (or yet another referendum) on separation from Canada was there every year.

"Planning blight" is what happens when the word gets out that they may be running a freeway through the neighbourhood, and property values and new investment collapse. Quebec had it on a province-wide scale for half-a-century. It's impossible to calculate the financial cost directly, but the population numbers are a good indication of what happened.

For the first half of the 20th Century, Quebec and Ontario, the two biggest Canadian provinces, had about the same population and grew at about the same rate. In 1960, Quebec was only slightly smaller than Ontario, with 5.2 million people compared to Ontario's 6.2 million people. By 2010, Quebec had only grown to 7.8 million, while Ontario had 13 million people.

The contrast is equally dramatic for the big cities. Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec, had always been Canada's biggest city. In 1960, Montreal had 2.2 million people, and Toronto, the capital of Ontario, had only 1.7 million. Now Toronto has six million people, while Montreal has only 3.8 million.

It's as if Chicago had started growing fast in the 1960s, and was now half again as big as New York City. It was the planning blight of the ever-looming next referendum on independence — the 'neverendum', as English-speaking Quebecers sometimes call it — that did this to Quebec. The same thing could happen to Scotland.

Independence for Scotland would not necessarily be a financial and demographic disaster, but the permanent expectation of another independence referendum certainly would be.

The Scots are unlikely ever to vote yes for independence, because the world has become a much harsher place economically for small Western countries with declining traditional industries and big debts. (An independent Scotland would presumably inherit about at tenth of Britain's national debt.)

Yet Mr Salmond has now put an independence referendum firmly on the Scottish political agenda, and it is unlikely to go away again in the foreseeable future even if he loses this one. Neverendum.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.









Ending 34 years of uninterrupted Left Front rule, Mamata Banerjee described her party's historic win in West Bengal as a 'second independence day'. The statement found resonance not just with Trinamool supporters who have swept Mamata into Writers' Building but also ordinary people in Bengal as well as the thousands that make up its diaspora. Thanks to years of industrial neglect and politicisation of the state machinery, an entire generation of Bengal's educated youth had to leave behind their home state for greener pastures. From educational institutions to local community clubs, the CPM's culture of patronage politics spared few. Through its cadre it blurred the distinction between party and government, rewarding nepotism and punishing dissent.

In 1977, the Left had come to power in Bengal on the promise of land reforms. Operation Barga, while protecting rights of sharecroppers, perpetuated the romantic leftist notion of a peasantry wedded to the land. Industry was the natural victim. Subsequently, through unions and peasant organisations, the Bengal countryside was consolidated as the Left's political bastion. Those from the urban middle class who demanded employment opportunities and better government services were looked down upon as products of a deplorable petit bourgeois order. However, after being stuck in a time warp for the better part of three and a half decades, the Left belatedly realised the folly of keeping industry out. To make investment attractive, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government did a complete U-turn and tried to acquire land cheaply.

This time the old tools of the Left political machinery - coercive cadre, subservient police and bureaucracy - were used to force farmers to part with their land, attracting the charge of crony capitalism. The Left was caught in its own trap. The result was Nandigram and Singur, which gave the Trinamool a handle to breach the Left's rural bastion. That was the beginning of the end. Mamata's emphatic electoral success bears testimony to the frustration of the people at the Left's arrogance of power. Patronage politics has reached a point of diminishing returns. The days of one-party hegemony are over. Fuelled by the successes of its diaspora, the genuine aspirations of the people of Bengal demand to be taken seriously.

The lesson in Trinamool's victory is that Bengal cannot be isolated from the rest of India. The Left leadership tried to keep the state in an artificial bubble and paid a heavy price. The days ahead will require Mamata to make the transition from street agitator to astute administrator. Land and its concomitant politics are bound to occupy her efforts. But with the support of a good team, she could script a bright new chapter in the history of Bengal.







If CPM's running of Bengal as a party monopoly finally backfired, in Tamil Nadu dynasty has been laid low. Two Stalins stand humbled, one whose portrait adorns Bengal's communist party offices, the other a chief minister's son who'd been pitched as TN's great white hope. Indian voters have never been judgmental about family-run politics if it's perceived as motivated by public good. As once happened to the Lalu clan in Bihar, this perception no longer holds good for TN's first family. By all indications, the DMK clan is now viewed as presided over by an ageing, ineffectual patriarch and torn apart by the personal ambitions of kith and kin vying for control over party affairs. Grave corruption charges have compounded matters. The DMK-Congress alliance's arrogance in not even proffering any convincing counter-argument couldn't have impressed the electorate.

Above all, uncertainties about a post-Karunanidhi DMK would've driven voters to AIADMK. Unlike Bengal, TN wasn't badly governed, nor was its economy in a hole. An investment hotspot, with vibrant industry - the state is India's largest auto-manufacturing hub - and traditionally big on welfare, TN's economy is generally thought to chug along irrespective of which of two Dravidian outfits thrives politically. But, this time around, there were concerns about dynastic wars and resource grabs translating into misgovernance and law and order issues. The signs were already there, in declining growth, power shortage, price rise and labour restiveness. Backing regime change, TN however needs Jayalalithaa to focus on governance. Can she eschew vendetta politics? As for DMK, it must introspect even to play the role of an effective opposition. The more party is equated with clan with Mahabharata-style family wars played out in public, the more DMK will be out of sync with 21st century India's voter expectations.







The Trinamool Congress's sweep of West Bengal, with due apologies to Jayalalithaa and Tarun Gogoi, is the biggest story of the assembly elections. Beginning with the 2008 panchayat polls followed by the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the groundswell in favour of the Trinamool had been steadily building. But Friday's result confirmed a tectonic shift in Bengal politics, which ended the 34-year record run of the Left Front.

For a generation which grew up with the CPM-led Left Front as a permanent fixture in Writers' Building, a change seemed almost beyond the realm of possibility. But the unthinkable has been single-handedly made possible by Mamata Banerjee. In the run-up to the polls, Mamata was the face of Trinamool's felicitous slogan - 'poriborton' or change - that so charged up Bengal. Addressing up to five election meetings a day she took her party's campaign to every corner of the state. Having attended a few of her public meetings, it was obvious that the party candidates on stage were just props. People came in thousands only for a darshan of Mamata and her connect with the crowd was electrifying.

Of course, the ground was fertile for Mamata's message of change. By every possible indicator, West Bengal is a laggard. The flight of industry from the state is a familiar story. By 2007-08, the share of manufacturing in the state's net domestic product had fallen to 7.4% compared to 13.6% in neighbouring Orissa. Along with the exit of capital, Bengal's best and brightest left in droves. The Left Front did not help matters by doing away with English for several years in government primary schools. But what is most shocking is the state of health and education, the two areas where a communist government was expected to have the most impact. The number of hospital beds per one lakh people in rural Bengal is 3.8 compared to an all-India average of 17.5. In education, the dropout rate of students is over 75% compared to an all-India average of 60%. More worryingly, the education system has been completely taken over by party apparatchiks. One could go on.

The status quo might still have been in place had it not been for the Left alienating its traditional rural support base by planning industrial projects on agricultural land without working out adequate compensation. Singur and Nandigram have now become bywords for the Left Front's failure, a supreme irony considering its signal success was redistribution of land among the rural peasantry. This had the additional effect of swinging the left-leaning intelligentsia towards Mamata, giving her the much-needed intellectual heft that she lacked as a street fighter backed mainly by the urban underclass. Subsequent violence unleashed by the CPM cadre added to Mamata's arsenal. Indeed, there is an entire geography of violence in the state - places like Lalgarh, Keshpur, Garbeta and Netai - that figured prominently in Mamata's campaign. Add to that the switch of Muslims - nearly a quarter of Bengal's population - who felt hard done by in Nandigram and the Left's failure to improve their lot, to Trinamool. The high turnout, helped by a clinically-run election that allowed many citizens who hadn't voted in earlier elections out of fear of reprisals to vote this time around, also worked to Mamata's advantage.

Finally, the ostrich-like attitude of the Left contributed in no small measure to Mamata's success. During the campaigning, several CPM leaders insisted that their party had recovered from the reverses of the past two years. Even a day before the results were announced, a party assessment predicted that the Left Front would narrowly return to power. Clearly the CPM - which won a mere 40 seats and saw most of its tall leaders biting the dust - had lost touch with reality. It needs a thorough reinvention to stay relevant in Bengal and elsewhere.

A victory for Mamata in the assembly polls was thus a foregone conclusion though the margin - 184 seats for Trinamool alone reducing the bickering Congress to a sideshow - has come as a surprise to many. Now comes the even harder task of reviving a stagnant Bengal. The vision document of the Trinamool published before the election has set plenty of targets, initially for the first 200 days and then for the next 1,000. How much of this - like setting up 17 clusters of small and medium enterprises or converting Digha into the Goa of the east - is attainable in such a short period in a severely cash-strapped state is a moot question. Other longer-term goals, such as attracting large private investment in the state or creating 10 lakh jobs, are not going to be easy given the lack of confidence of investors in Bengal, for which Mamata herself is partly to blame. Similarly, turning around the agricultural sector, where subsistence farming is the norm, is a difficult task. Revamping the education system too will provide its own set of challenges. There is also a real threat that political violence could cripple the state. Mamata had repeatedly said during her campaign that she wants 'badal' (change) and not want 'badla' (revenge). Only time will tell whether the CPM cadre and Trinamool workers can be reined in.

The real test will be whether Mamata, who has spent most of her life as a scrapping opposition politician, can transform herself to a capable administrator. She has gathered a competent bunch of individuals around her, but in the end hers is the final word in the Trinamool. With high expectations from the people of Bengal, in the next five years she will have to jettison her populism for governance.

During her campaign, Mamata often repeated her ambition of restoring Bengal to the position encapsulated by that outdated saying: What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. Sadly, Bengal is decidedly yesterday's story. If Mamata and her team can make Bengal relevant in today's India that itself would be no mean achievement. She definitely has the mandate to do so.

The writer is a visiting research fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore.







Apurba Kishore Bir , popularly known as A K Bir, is an award-winning cinematographer-director from Orissa. As director, he won plaudits for his evocatively photographed film, Adi Mimansa. His film Lavanya Preeti claimed the Best Asian Film award at the Osaka international film festival. His Hindi film Baaja won the National Award for the Best Children's film in 2003. Bir also handled the second camera in the first unit of Richard Attenborough's Oscar-winning film Gandhi. A graduate of FTII Pune, Bir was recently in the capital for the platinum jubilee celebrations of Oriya cinema. He spoke to Meenakshi Sinha :

The first Oriya film, Sita Bibah, was made in 1936. It has been a long journey since. What subjects and inspiration form the core of Oriya films?

Subjects come from a thought process that's a result of certain concerns as a human being. Subjects such as poverty have come from the reality one has witnessed in the society. Poverty is not just a reality but a phenomenon in Oriya culture.

There's also the influence of Hindi cinema?

Most Oriya films are imitations of Bollywood films and are made with only commercial interests. They are made simply to appease the audience.

So how do you see this influence considering your strong association with the growth of parallel regional cinema of the 1990s?

Unfortunately regional cinema is blocked somewhere. Younger film-makers have not taken to the continuity of tradition and culture and hence have no clue. These young film-makers have lost contact with the original thought and culture of Oriya films. What they are showing today has no connection with thousands of years of traditional culture of Orissa.

So doesn't the audience define their tastes in cinema?

The audience has mostly acted in a passive manner and i blame the film-makers for entertaining the audience in this passive mode. A film-maker has to see how he can activate the audience's mental calibre into a more energetic form. Only then will they find a form of entertainment that's meant for the audience's growth. If as a film-maker, you are yourself passive, then it's being extremely disrespectful towards your service to mankind.

From two-three films to 20 films a year, how has the growth of Oriya films fared?

There've been glorious moments during the 1970s and 80s. Many films that depicted a film-maker's social responsibility came about during this time. But gradually, people started getting severed from their original self, culture and tradition. The result was predictable - they came to be overpowered by other forces. That was bound to happen. Any creative man, once he loses his creativity, spirit of adventure and thought, is overtaken by commercial elements. Forces like dependence on technology, economics and market begin to dictate his creativity.

So is all this at the cost of regional identity?

Yes absolutely. I've always maintained that regional films still hold the clue to the merit of Indian ethos and knowledge.

How do you see the future of regional cinema?

I think they have a great future, because regional cinema has depth, sensitivity and a reality which is very exciting.

What's the Oriya film industry worth today?

There are several films being made today, and though i've not been actively involved in the Oriya film industry per se, my main concern has been to make Oriya films accessible to every part of the country and the world. Other than that, the industry's main concern has been to generate funds to make it more productive in terms of money-making so as to survive without compromising its basic values.








It may be desirable to hold Goddess Lakshmi in the deepest recesses of your heart, but wear her on your sleeve at your peril! And, while you may cover your body with a robe that proclaims your religious allegiance, try holding the image of a deity any closer to your heart and all hell breaks loose!

Whereas it is okay to wear a shirt or a stole with gods emblazoned on it, or even don jewellery with religious symbols, beware - underwear, slippers or toilet seats are a no-no for pictures of deities or other religious imagery. Even priests, who may use a stole with religious symbols, aren't allowed to use the same stole as an asana. So, it is important to understand that though designer Lisa Burke's bikini top would have passed muster, it was the bottom that blew the top off the lid!

Lisa scrapped her swimwear line for Australia Fashion Week after a whiplash of fury unleashed by Hindu groups at her use of images of the goddess on bikini bottoms. She apologised and halted production of the bikini line. Not a single one of the deified swimsuits that defied the goddess will hit the racks!

A statement issued by the designer's company Lisa Blue claimed that usage of the goddess's image was "an attempt to celebrate different cultures". Now, try convincing us that the face of one of our most venerated deities adorning a derriere, however pert and sexy, is a celebration of our culture!

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli singed his fashionable fingertips similarly seven years ago when he had to hastily withdraw his spa line amid an eruption of Hindu sentiment the world over. Images of Lord Ram, Vishnu and Goddess Saraswati on intimate wear for women frazzled the Hindu Human Rights body enough to raise the flag. French shoe brand Minelli withdrew their shoes with religious images after protests. Heidi Klum used Kali as a Halloween outfit, and popular brand Guess sparked protests with tank tops that sported Ganesha images and the words "Handsome elephant!"

It is indeed surprising that leading international designers and brands who turn their gaze to the richness of Hindu iconography with its exotic symbols fail to do their homework well, thus risking bad publicity as well as incurring financial losses! Unless there is a design to the entire fracas? Was Lisa totally unaware of these other blasphemous instances that preceded her collection? Or did the designer see it as a wild card entry to international fame?

What offended Hindu sentiment in the case of Lisa, Roberto or Minelli was that the image of the deities adorned underwear, bikinis and footwear. The same images emblazoned on shirts or scarves may not have aroused a protest. Similar protests had erupted earlier when shoes or even toilet seat covers have used images of Hindu deities.

If it is okay to carry your God on or in your handbag or flaunt him around your neck, one may well question how a fabric gets defiled the moment it touches your bosom or bottom? It would be very easy to attribute this to the rigidity and fragility of an inflexible mindset, not conducive to sharing the fruits of a decidedly rich culture. However that is not the case.

No religion in the world really allows you to wear its symbols below the waist as the reproductive and excretory organs are located there, explains an astrologer! These are the subtleties that the western mind needs to understand if indeed all these instances have been innocent mistakes, as they would have us believe.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, when asked about the use of religious symbols on clothes, says, "Instead of Mickey Mouse, they use Ganesha. But the problem is that we spend too much time trying to understand and fight for symbols rather than life itself!"






The Left is well and truly over in not just West Bengal but also in Kerala where it did put up a doughty fight, thanks to a doughty fighter in octogenarian former chief minister VS Achuthanandan.

But in Kerala, the Left's debacle is par for the course, given how the state swings against the incumbent government with predictable regularity. But the Trinamool Congress' Mamata Banerjee's chappal revolution is a different case altogether. The commissars at AKG Bhawan must ponder how and where they have gone so wrong.

The Left, given the history of the party and its eminent figures like EMS Namboordiripad and Jyoti Basu, has always played a crucial role in national politics. But it would seem that the party has now gone into the hands of those who have never won an election beyond their college precincts.

The Left was supposed to be the anchor of a Third Front, a sort of force which would serve as a check and balance in our very fragile democracy. But, starting with the 'historic blunder' of not letting Jyoti Basu become prime minister, the Left seems hellbent on frittering away the advantages it had.

The decision to challenge the Manmohan Singh government on the nuclear issue was once again a question of reading the political climate all wrong. In these elections as in the earlier Lok Sabha one, the Left seems to have misread all the signals. It did not back former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in West Bengal even when the Trinamool tornado hit the state.

The Left has made no attempt to reinvent itself and be relevant to the times. The overwhelming impression of CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat's tenure has been one of arrogance unmatched by any record of delivery. In Kerala, despite a popular surge of sentiment in favour of the former chief minister, the Left tried to sideline him completely, defying electoral logic.

Now that it has written itself out of the national and state scene, the Left would do well to get off its high horse and stop its now meaningless harangue against foreign investment and a pro-West foreign policy.

The Left seems to be labouring under the delusion that it is a national player in its own right. It needs to take a reality check and perhaps, pay more attention to its troops on the ground. It should have taken far more note of the sentiments of the rank and file in West Bengal who could have bought a lot more wisdom to the table than the worthies of AKG Bhawan. In Kerala, it ought to have listened to the workers who were able to discern a pro-Achuthanandan wave than imagine that the general secretary, himself a non-resident Malayalee, would know best.

These elections should give the Left an opportunity to decide how best to keep itself relevant and reclaim its earlier role as the kingmaker in coalition politics. If not, it stands a very strong chance of being further marginalised in a constantly evolving political scenario.




Sheila, Maya, Jaya and Mamata. Sounds like opening lines of a  soap ad jingle, the Lalitaji variety, doesn't it? But after last week's stellar performance by two women leaders in the state elections, most would be singing fulsome arias, not two-minute jingles, for them. We are talking about the iron ladies of Indian politics - Congress' Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati, and the CMs-in-waiting of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the AIAD-MK's J Jayalalithaa and Trinamool Congress' Mamata Bane-rjee, respectively.

Though the four have similar sounding names, they are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. While suave Ms Dikshit has a grandmotherly charm, Ms Jayalalithaa is everybody's amma. Likewise, Ms Banerjee, much younger than the previous two, is 'didi' personified. As for Ms Mayawati, she is a bit of a 'didi' but definitely not in the Mamata category; made as she of sterner stuff. Behenji is more akin to a boot camp commandant, than loving sister which Mamata with her earthy charm is. Along with their colourful personalities, the Fab Four have different styles of functioning and dressing too. While cotton sari and chappal-clad Ms Banerjee and the Fab India-draped Ms Dikshit are much more people's persons, the caped crusader Jayalalithaa and bejeweled Mayawati connect with the electorate from a distance. Either way, both systems seem to work with the electorate.

Such variety is great news for the voters. Which other country can offer such leaders who suit regional tastes too? And, going by the election results, the voters are making the most of it, as the 2011 polls proved.






Of late, Tihar has been in the news. A number of high-profile personalities are lodged here, a few more are on their way. Curiously, various sections of the media are only too eager to know details of their daily routine, diet or pastime. Presumably, reports on such inanities attract extensive viewership and readership. It is presumed, albeit erroneously, that they are kept in VIP jails with special facilities.

Much less attention is paid to the living conditions of ordinary inmates, or the special programmes related to their reform and rehabilitation. Various innovative schemes have been introduced in Delhi's jails over the past few months. One of them is 'Padho aur Padhao', a literacy programme for 2,500 illiterates lodged in Tihar, run in collaboration with the National Literacy Mission Authority.

The programme also imparts life skills such as creative thinking, effective communication, self awareness, decision-making and problem-solving.

Another experiment underway is the creation of music rooms in all jails. Equipped with basic musical instruments like the harmonium, tabla and guitar, they provide a peaceful refuge for those interested in music. A number of corporates have been encouraged to interview handpicked inmates, who were groomed and prepared to face job interviews. Yoga, sports, meditation sessions, job opportunities in the prison factory and bakery have also long existed in Tihar. Recently, a cricket team called Tihar XI has been created. Books and special tuitions are provided to five inmates preparing for the forthcoming civil services examination.

In drawing room conversations, one is often asked: "Aren't you molly-coddling criminals by these programmes?" As a career policeman, directly or indirectly responsible for arresting a large number of criminals, I too held the belief that criminals should be dealt with sternly. But as director general (prisons), I realised that only a minuscule percentage of those lodged here are the dangerous, incurable types, who need to be first corrected before they can be brought under the ambit of such schemes.

Providing literacy is in line with our country's commitment before the VI International Conference on Adult Education held at Belem, Brazil, 2009, where nations have committed to "providing adult education in prisons at all appropriate levels".

The Supreme Court, in its landmark judgement in Sunil Batra vs. Delhi administration and others (1978) has observed that a person in prison does not become a non-person and is entitled to all rights within the limitations of imprisonment. These include, interalia, "freedom to read and write, exercise and recreation, meditation and chant."

A lot, however, remains to be done. Overcrowding would be a thing of the past once the Mandoli jail is ready in east Delhi. An 'open-jail' has been planned for a limited category of inmates who have already served a major part of their sentence, have conducted themselves well during their stay and have complied with timely return when on parole or furlough. They can leave the open jail in the morning, work outside during the day and return in the evening.

There are already 29 open jails in India. It is time that Delhi has one. More steps need to be taken to modernise and improve the living conditions and make Tihar an exemplary reformation and rehabilitation centre. VIPs may come and go but Tihar, as an ideal correctional centre, should go on forever.

Neeraj Kumar is director general, Prisons, Government of Delhi

The views expressed by the author are personal




In contrast to most south Asian countries, modern India has always been officially "secular", a word the country inscribed in its Constitution in 1976. Secularism, here, is not synonymous with the French "laïcité", which demands strong separation of religion and the state. India's secularism does not require exclusion of religion from the public sphere. It implies recognition of all religions by the state. This philosophy of inclusivity finds expression in one article of the Constitution by which all religious communities may set up schools that are eligible for state subsidies.

India's secularism, therefore, has more affinities with multiculturalism. Its emphasis on pluralism parallels the robust parliamentary democracy and federalism that India has been cultivating for 64 years.   

But today, secularism is in jeopardy in India. The main threat comes from the rise of Hindu militancy and its consequences not only for electoral politics, but also for the judiciary and society at large.

The core belief of the Hindu nationalist movement, whose key organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was founded in 1925, is that the Indian identity is embodied in Hinduism, the oldest and largest religion of India. For decades the RSS has worked at the grass roots level, recruiting children who are taught to fight religions founded outside India and forming new fronts (that include student, labour and peasant groups).

The RSS and its offshoots consistently criticised pro-minority policies. But it remained a marginal player until the 1980s when the ruling Congress Party was again assailed by the Hindu nationalists' critique of 'pseudo-secularism'.

The RSS supported Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded the (re)building of a temple where the Babri Masjid was constructed in 1528 at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

This campaign ended with the demolition of the mosque by a Hindu mob in 1992. It was accompanied by a widespread wave of communal riots. It contributed to electoral gains for the BJP and between 1998 to 2004, the party was in a position to head a national ruling coalition.

The 1980s-90s were a turning point in India's secularism. This period could have been a parenthesis, since the Congress party regained power in 2004, but India has never returned to the balance of religious co-existence and compromise that prevailed in its first three decades of independence.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the communal clashes that accompanied the BJP's rise to power have never been addressed properly by the police and judiciary. Muslims were massacred in numbers unprecedented since India's 1947 partition; about 1,000 were killed in Bhagalpur in 1989, and violence rose to the level of pogroms in Gujarat in 2002 when about 2,000 Muslims were killed after 59 Hindus were burnt alive in train coaches in Godhra, Gujarat. Inquiry commissions prepared reports that were either never made public or not followed by serious action. In most democracies, the kind of violence Gujarat experienced in 2002 would have resulted in at least a 'Justice and Reconciliation' commission.

Minorities must cope with marginalisation. Christian tribals are victims of violence, especially in Orissa and Gujarat, where they are requested to (re)convert to Hinduism. Muslims face discrimination in the job and housing markets. Politically, Muslims are marginalised with less than 6% of MPs in the lower house of Parliament while representing 13.4% of the population. In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commissioned a report on the status of India's Muslims under a committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar. But none of the Sachar Committee's recommendations to improve the situation has been implemented.

India is gradually moving away from multiculturalism toward a type of 'ethnic democracy', exemplified by Israel and Sri Lanka, where minorities are treated as second-class citizens. As a result, India may well lose one of the key pillars of its soft power, the quality of its multiculturalism - and more alarmingly, perhaps also its adherence to the rule of law.

Christophe Jaffrelot is a Paris-based sociologist.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

This is part of the Religion and Public Space series in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilisations and its Global Experts project.




'Professor, I think I didn't get the point of your classes on exchange rates and price comparisons across countries,' said Ashish. Since he had been the best student in my MBA class thus far, I was rather surprised. May be my students had indeed been confused.

"Not at all," replied Ashish, "You've been very clear, professor. But I still don't understand. Let me explain why. We are at the end of the programme, and last week I received a job offer from a firm in Mumbai. The position looks interesting and Mumbai is a great city to live in, although I grew up in Delhi and I've been there only once. The salary also looked attractive: it is not very different from what some European firms are offering us. Over the weekend, I made a few enquiries with friends in Mumbai and did the numbers. There is no way I could survive in Mumbai with the salary they are offering. To be precise, I could survive, but I could only afford an apartment a couple of hours away from the office. The job is challenging and demanding, often you must stay in the office after dinner. Maybe I would end up sleeping in there. And then, what's the purpose of moving to Mumbai if you cannot enjoy the city after work?"

Ashish ended up accepting a job in London. He found a flat at Islington. Not close to the office, but on the tube it takes 45 minutes to get home, convenient even when he works late at night. He misses India and when I see him, he still asks what he didn't get about that class on exchange rates and prices.

The drivers of a country's development are its cities and the young. The cities because, as Harvard University's Ed Glaeser explains in his new book Triumph of the City, they bring out the best in humankind. History has shown that a country's success  depends on the health of its cities. The young, on the other hand, have ideas and the ability to turn ideas into profitable projects. You can do this when you are 25; at 50, it's much harder. Mumbai's loss of Ashish is a symptom of India's development problems.

What would it take to make it possible for a young professional to live at a reasonable distance from his office in Mumbai? A number of somewhat difficult steps, which would require a very forward-looking government. Most of Mumbai is occupied by low-rise, inefficient houses. Forget their availability, they are far from the standards a young MBA is looking for. They should be leveled and replaced by efficient high-rise buildings. A few historical areas should be preserved, but they occupy a very small fraction of the half-a-million square kilometres over which the city extends. Shanghai has transformed itself preserving the Bund and a few historical markets. New York has leveled anything which existed prior to the 1920s: we don't seem to miss it. The real problem is not the crumbling houses, but the people who live there. Once the new high-rise buildings are ready, there will be space for both the old dwellers and the young MBAs. But rebuilding Mumbai, even a few neighbourhoods, will take the good part of a decade. What happens to the current inhabitants in the meantime?

The solution is a modern metro system. Delhi has done it, Mumbai is about to inaugurate its first metro line. A metro serves two purposes. While the neighbourhoods of the city are being rebuilt, it will make it possible to temporarily relocate those who now live in the centre, without forcing them to give up their jobs. If the city becomes a big success, even the new high-rise buildings will not suffice to house all who will want to live in the city: the metro will make it possible to develop new areas at an easy commuting distance.

Can new metro projects be launched, not only in Delhi and Mumbai, but also in Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad? I think they can, for two reasons. First, Delhi and Mumbai are doing it. The new Delhi metro is clean, efficient and has already opened up new areas of the city. Two years ago, living in Gurgaon and working in downtown Delhi would have been a nightmare: now the commute takes 30 minutes. The Delhi metro is the evidence that even in India, such a project can be completed.

Second, the financial resources could be made available. India's GDP is growing at 8% per year and the real interest rate is around 5% (I am following the most recent IMF projections). The government is targeting (for 2014-15) a balanced primary budget, that is a level of total spending (at the Union and the state level) equal to the volume of projected revenues. With such a wide gap between the growth rate of the real interest rate, a balanced primary budget means a falling debt-to-GDP ratio. If instead India were to target a constant debt ratio (just below 70% of GDP, the target set by the 13th Finance Commission), the fiscal space available for investing in public infrastructure would be as large as 2% of GDP per year. Such a volume of infrastructure investment may be what is needed to make an 8% growth sustainable.

Is riding the trade-off between reducing the debt below 70% of GDP and investing in infrastructure a risk India can run? It all depends on the quality of public projects. To be productive, to be completed in time and to avoid corruption, public investment should be concentrated in a few, easy-to-monitor projects. The Delhi and Mumbai metros are two good examples. They should be the first in a sequence of new projects.

Francesco Giavazzi teaches at Bocconi university in Milan and is currently a visiting professor at MIT.

The views expressed by the author are personal.



T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






There is a question staring the Left in the face, after its spectacular fall in West Bengal. Has the Left Front, and big brother CPM in particular, been humbled by defeat? The context and pretext for raising the question is Bengal, since the Left almost finished first-past-the-post in Kerala. Moreover, the inordinate influence it exercised in national politics and policy-making drew specifically from its sustained hold in Bengal. It is not just that Bengal, its partly over-analysed, partly inexplicable 34-year-long reign is past, and its chief minister lost by more than 16,000 votes. It is that the defeatism that paralysed its government for three years before the defeat finally came, framed how bereft of ideas the Left had become — and how fearful it appeared to be to ask, why, how, now what?

The Left must ask itself and answer the question because it has to understand why it lost. Without that wisdom, it cannot move on. The temptation to explain the defeat away with mega historical imagery — waves, tsunamis, cyclones — must be avoided, because the Left in Bengal has to re-learn how to be an opposition. The Left's predicament is complicated by the fact that for the long years that it was actually in opposition, its modus operandi were usually neither democratic nor civil. So digging into the past will not be much help, except to console itself that it's been here before. A further complication is that it's practically leaderless in the new assembly, given the fall of the giants of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government. More bad news is in the offing: the exodus of workers, defection of cadre, and some of the countless government office-holders from clerks to bureaucrats appointed by the party to stranglehold government and state will no longer be at the CPM's beck and call. When a prolonged, Stalinist-lite regime collapses, such is usually the "collateral" damage. Reconstructing the party from the ground up and rejoining parliamentary politics will be akin to learning how to walk again. For, Bengal was the food of Left politics across the country.

That's why the Left Front must understand the loudest, pan-Bengal accusation against it: arrogance. After 34 years, the people of Bengal decided they'd had enough. But something must have happened over the last assembly's term that catalysed an overthrow of this magnitude. If the Left is chastened and willing to go back to the roots, not its own but those of democratic politics, it has a future. If it reverts to its old oppositional instincts or pretends it can still exercise the muscles it built in government, that future will recede.






Parenting — for all its commonplaceness and the quick succession of what-the-heck-should-I-do-now moments that moms and dads everywhere grapple with — comes with no strictures, no trusty D-I-Y guides. When Amy Chua gave her controversial model for parenting in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, she did more than offer a catchy phrase for the year. Berating American parents for coddling the children and lauding her own strict Chinese child-rearing regimen with its rules of "I won't let my girls go on play dates or be in school plays", her book generated an intense backlash in the West. However, Chua's discipline-and-punish routine could have found a resonance with many Indian parents who relentlessly push their children to academic excellence, to IITs and the Ivy League, to spelling bees and medical schools.

Now, India's tiger parents get the stamp of reality television. The crew of BBC's reality series World's Strictest Parents is in Pune, looking for couples who can set right some unruly British teens. They were here earlier, in 2009, and reportedly created a hit series with two difficult teens living for a week with an Indian family. The couple insisted that the children went to school and the family had their meals together. The series makers maintain that Indian parents believe in old-school values like discipline and respect even as they embrace progress and development.

That is an alluring mix, but also a overstated stereotype. In the urge of the middle class to have the kids secure A's in school and then good jobs and cross the vaguely drawn bounds of class, India is indeed a breeding ground for Chua variants. But even as there are many tiger parents with their varying stripes, codes and compulsions, there are also the happily indulgent ones, even the merry slackers. For, the parent that you turn into often depends on the childhood you have had. And no two childhoods are the same.






The IITs have long been the pride and joy of Indian education, for embodying a rare meritocratic ideal — no matter where you're from, once you're past the ferociously competitive entrance test, the IIT experience ushers you into a different world. Or so the legend goes. In recent years, IITs have been torn over the question of greater autonomy from government fiat and stricture. Now, there's some movement in that direction. A committee set up by the human resources ministry and headed by the scientist Anil Kakodkar has recommended that IIT tuition be increased up to five times, for the B.Tech and postgraduate programmes, in proportion to the expected returns on an IIT education.

They aim to make the IITs financially independent in terms of operating expenditure, and leave only scholarships, infrastructure and capital expenditure to the government. This hike, extravagant as it seems, covers only 30 per cent of the full cost for a student — the rest will still be directly or indirectly covered by state subsidies. What's more, to make sure that this does not deter any potential student, there will also be a special loan programme, one that will require no collateral or guarantee by a guardian.

Apart from all this, the committee suggests amping up the scholarship programme — so that a quarter of the undergraduate students are fully paid for, those whose family income is less that 4.5 lakh a year will have their tuitions covered, as well as a stipend for living expenses. This also stretches to Masters' and Ph.D. candidates, leaving them free to concentrate on research. Like the IIM model, this also leaves them free to make decisions, and not depend on the government for faculty salaries, etc. The panel also recommends that each IIT board will be given the flexibility to design its own fee structure, depending on its own special requirements. This seems like an eminently sensible plan, to ensure no one is priced out of the prestigious institutes, while giving the schools greater latitude to run their own show.








Two weeks after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad by the US Special Forces, the Pakistan army has doubled the stakes rather than quit its three-decade-old game of using terrorism as an instrument of policy in Afghanistan and India.

By going on the offensive, the Pakistan army chief, General

Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has set the stage for the final battles of what some Indian strategists have called the Fourth Afghan War, the outcomes of which will define the subcontinent's geopolitics for decades to come.

It might be recalled that the British Raj fought three Afghan wars in the 19th and early 20th centuries as part of its effort to consolidate its north-western frontiers.

The prolonged Fourth Afghan War began with Pakistan trying to destabilise Afghanistan in the late 1970s. To protect the left-wing regime in Kabul, the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan at the end of 1979. The anti-Soviet jihad launched from Pakistan by extremist groups was orchestrated by the ISI and supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia. After ousting the Soviet Union from Afghanistan at the end of the '80s, the ISI installed the Taliban in Kabul in the mid-'90s.

When bin Laden, a child of this jihad, turned against the West and attacked New York and Washington, it was America's turn to invade Afghanistan. The American success in Afghanistan depended entirely on persuading Pakistan to unwind the terror machine it had nurtured.

The unilateral American action against bin Laden, who was in a shelter under the very nose of the Pakistan army, revealed to the American public what has been known in Washington all along — Rawalpindi's double-dealing

on terror.

Any expectation in Washington that the Pakistan army, caught red-handed in the bin Laden affair, might either show contrition or change course now stands belied. By whipping up anti-Americanism, Kayani successfully avoided internal political scrutiny of the army's complicity in protecting bin Laden and its incompetence in preventing the US raid on Abbottabad.

Kayani has got Pakistan's political class to authorise the army to review the current security cooperation with Washington and consider cuttting off much-needed supplies to the American and international forces in Afghanistan if the US persists with drone attacks.

If the American public is angry at Pakistan army's duplicity and sections of the US Congress are demanding cuts in the aid to Pakistan or at least making them conditional, a defiant Kayani is threatening to make life even more miserable for the US in Afghanistan.

That's not all. Even before bin Laden was killed, Kayani was pulling out the China card. Barely two weeks before the raid on Abbottabad, Kayani and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were in Kabul demanding that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai dump the United States in favour of China. Gilani's visit to China starting Tuesday is expected to demonstrate how far Beijing is willing to go — beyond verbal support — in protecting Pakistan against the United States.

Meanwhile, the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, travelled to Russia to build the basis for a new relationship with Moscow. Russia is preparing for the incipient change in US policy towards Afghanistan and sees deeper engagement with Pakistan of some value.

For Washington, the question is not really about evidence of the Pakistan army's complicity in promoting terror. The US has tonnes of it and then some, gathered during the raid on bin Laden's home in Abbottabad. There will be even more in the public domain, when David Coleman Headley will testify in a Chicago court on Monday on the ISI's support to his plotting of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

In the past, Washington often blinked when confronted with Pakistan's brinkmanship. Even now there are some in the Obama administration who argue that pushing Kayani too hard might be counterproductive. But the past is not necessarily a guide to the future, especially after the killing of bin Laden which has had an effect on the US domestic debate on

Af-Pak issues.

While Kayani has shown the China card, it is not clear if Beijing wants to be played against Washington in the utterly crude manner that Kayani has done. At their strategic and economic dialogue in Washington a few days ago, the US and China agreed to begin a bilateral dialogue of their own on Afghanistan. The next few weeks and months will show if Kayani has overreached in his defiance of the United States or got his sums right on Pakistan internal dynamics and regional geopolitics.

On its part, India now has options and resources that it did not have when the Fourth Afghan War began. That India is aware of the post-bin Laden opportunities is reflected in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Afghanistan last week. By announcing additional economic aid of $500 million and agreeing to begin security cooperation as part of a new strategic partnership with Kabul, the PM has signalled India's determination to raise its independent profile in Afghanistan.

In the coming weeks and months, India will need to do more. For one, they need to step up the engagement with all the major powers — including Washington, Beijing and Moscow — and the regional actors, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the unfolding situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For another, India must also maintain its current dialogue with the government of Pakistan and keep open channels of communication with all the major political forces there.

For India, this is not a moment for posturing against Pakistan, but for quiet activism. Delhi needs to position itself to influence the outcomes in the Fourth Afghan War and as a constructive player in helping bring positive change to Pakistan. The Fourth Afghan War has seen Pakistan promote violent religious extremism under the shadow of its nuclear gun. If India plays it right, it has a chance to reverse the brutalisation of the subcontinent during the last three decades.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







When Jabberwocky said, "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe/ All mimsy were the borogoves," he was inadvertently summing up the scenario in Kerala after the election results. Nothing makes sense. Nobody understands what went wrong. The slithy toves of both the LDF and the UDF are gyring and gimbling and they have all gone mimsy. The UDF with 72 seats shamefully holds a majority of one in an assembly of 140, after accounting for the Speaker. The LDF with 68 seats, and almost tasting victory, swallows bitter defeat. It is significant that in giving the LDF a near-victory, the people of Kerala almost broke their entrenched election behaviour: always alternate the fronts.

One can only conjecture why the LDF nearly managed the impossible. Even as the war of attrition between the CPM led by its secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan was happening on a 24x7x365 basis, the government managed to implement several pro-poor, welfare-oriented schemes which directly touched the lives of the common man. They seem to have not forgotten this when they went to vote. Then there is the Achuthanandan factor. Despite being the most bungling chief minister Kerala has ever seen, his wily theatrics and canny rhetoric as a corruption-hunter and a modern-day St. George protecting the modesty of women paid off. With the media's assistance, he pulled off a coup of sorts on Malayalis and the CPM. He must have brought in at least 10 seats to the LDF's kitty.

However, the CPM hierarchy must have breathed a big sigh of relief when the news of defeat came in. It would have faced virtual extinction had the LDF won and Achuthanandan became the CM again. He is an unrelenting Stalinist and does not brook opposition. Nor does he forgive enemies, in the party or outside. The defeat is a narrow escape for the party from the fatal fallout of Achuthanandan's returning to power.

The Congress, as it always happens, developed suicidal tendencies as soon as it thought power was sighted. Internal squabbles, absence of an election machinery at the grassroots level and the sheer self-centredness of its functionaries are some of the factors that drove it to near-defeat. It took a severe drubbing, winning only 38 of the 82 it contested. Thus what was supposed to be a walkover became a sour victory. It has to deal with a powerful Muslim League (20 seats), an eternally greedy Kerala Congress (9 seats) and, in the present situation of a paltry one-man majority, four loose cannons: SJD (2); Kerala Congress-J (1); Kerala Congress-B (1) and RSP-B (1).

It was just a few months ago that that SJD came out of the LDF. It knows its way back intimately. And K.M. Mani, supremo of the Kerala Congress (M), would not mind being the chief minister of Kerala even for a short while. The Congress has a tough time ahead indeed. Oommen Chandy's gaadi is going to be filled with merciless backseat drivers. Even though one hates to be a Cassandra, chances are that it may not be long before things fall apart in the UDF.

Where do the people of Kerala get off, then? They have chosen between a rock and a hard place — and the rock can crumble any moment. In place of the bitter war between the CPM and Achuthanandan, a multifronted ding-dong battle between the UDF partners is going to be thrust on them. Governance will be the missing item in the UDF agenda, as the Congress and its allies essentially work for themselves, their friends, lobbies and other vested interests. The LDF's corruption had a certain modesty, with a majority of ministers being personally uncorrupt. They managed by letting the System — babus, police, lower-rung party functionaries, etc —thrive on corruption. But the UDF is known for its gargantuan appetite, starting with the ministers.

Another problem with the UDF is that its intellectual and ideological talent is highly impoverished. Nor does it have a vision for the common man. Radical, innovative and progressive change, especially of a pro-poor nature, is not in its ambit. Ironically, it is not abreast of modern-day capitalism either. What it knows essentially is lobby-oriented economics. Hence racketeers and fortune-hunters will abound, not wealth-creators or employment providers.

Malayalis are going to pay a heavy price in any case. Because the LDF will soon set into motion its gigantic and fearsome machinery of anti-government offensives. Every other day, life will be paralysed with street-battles and hartals. There is a silver lining, however. Most of the CPM's voluntary forces have taken up softer options like anybody else. The party has to hire street-fighters and demonstrators on steep daily wages. Maybe, who knows, the party doesn't have that kind of money. Who knows?

Paul Zacharia is a Malayalam writer






Watching the Arab uprisings these days leaves me with a smile on my face and a pit in my stomach. The smile comes from witnessing a whole swath of humanity losing its fear and regaining its dignity. The pit comes from a rising worry that the Arab Spring may have been both inevitable and too late. If you are not feeling both these impulses, you're not paying attention.

The smile? A Libyan friend remarked to me the other day that he was watching Arab satellite TV out of Benghazi, Libya, and a sign held aloft at one demonstration caught his eye. It said in Arabic: "Ana Rajul" — which translates to "I am a man." If there is one sign that sums up the whole Arab uprising, it's that one.

As I've tried to argue, this uprising, at root, is not political. It's existential. It is much more Albert Camus than Che Guevara. All these Arab regimes to one degree or another stripped their people of their basic dignity. They deprived them of freedom and never allowed them to develop anywhere near their full potential. And as the world has become hyper-connected, it became obvious to every Arab citizen just how far behind they were — not only to the West, but to China, India and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

This combination of being treated as children by their autocrats and as backward by the rest of the world fuelled a deep humiliation, which shows up in signs like that one in Libya, announcing to no one in particular: "I am a man" — I have value, I have aspirations, I want the rights everyone else in the world has. And because so many Arabs share these feelings, this Arab Spring is not going to end — no matter how many people these regimes kill.

It is novelists, not political scientists, who can best articulate this mood. Raymond Stock, who teaches Arabic at Drew University in Madison, N.J., is writing a biography of the Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. In an essay published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Stock pointed out how Mahfouz foreshadowed so many of the feelings driving the Arab Spring in his novel Before the Throne. There, Mahfouz puts in the mouth of a rebel firebrand, defending his revolution against the pharaoh, words that could have been heard in Tahrir Square this year:

"We have endured agonies beyond what any human can bear. When our ferocious anger was raised against the rottenness of oppression and darkness, our revolt was called chaos, and we were called mere thieves. Yet it was nothing but a revolution against despotism, blessed by the gods."

But that also explains that pit in the stomach. These Arab regimes have been determined to prevent any civil society or progressive parties from emerging under their rule. So when these regimes break at the top, the elevator goes from the palace straight to the mosque. There is nothing else in between — no legitimate parties or institutions.

Those who say America should have stood by Hosni Mubarak, or should not favor toppling Bashar al-Assad in Syria — in the name of stability — forget that their stability was built on the stagnation of millions of Arabs. The Arab people were not offered Chinese autocratic stability: We take your freedom and give you education and a rising standard of living. Their deal was Arab autocratic stability: We take your freedom and feed you the Arab-Israeli conflict, corruption and religious obscurantism.

But to embrace the downfall of these dictators — as we must — is to advocate levelling a rotten building with no assurance that it can be rebuilt. That is what happened in Iraq, and it was hugely expensive for us to build a new, and still tenuous, order there.

So to embrace the downfall of these dictators is to hope that their own people can come together to midwife democracy in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya. But here one must honestly ask: Is the breakdown in these societies too deep for anyone to build anything decent out of? Was the Arab Spring both inevitable and too late? My answer: It's never too late, but some holes are deeper than others, and we are now seeing that the hole Arab democrats have to climb out of is really, really deep. Wish them well.

Again, Stock points us to Mahfouz's Before the Throne, which is a novel in which each Egyptian leader challenges his successor. In this case, Mustafa al-Nahhas, the head of the liberal Wafd Party, which was crushed when Gamal Abdel Nasser led a military coup in 1952, berates Nasser for eroding Egypt's constitutional heritage.

"Those who launched the 1919 Revolution were people of initiative and innovation in ... politics, economics and culture," Nahhas tells Nasser. "How your highhandedness spoiled your most pristine depths! See how education was vitiated, how the public sector grew depraved! How your defiance of the world's powers led you to horrendous losses and shameful defeats! You never sought the benefit of another person's opinion ... And what was the result? Clamour and cacophony, and an empty mythology — all heaped on a pile of rubble." Thomas L. Friedman








Jaya Mamata

Mamata Banerjee's success has been celebrated as the highlight of the assembly polls. Sahafat, published out of Delhi, Dehradun, Mumbai and Lucknow says in a headline, "Didi ka kamaal, Amma ka dhamaal "(Didi's miracle and Amma's sensational spectacle).

Mumbai-based Inquilab's headlines read: "Left's arrogance shattered". The editorial in the paper is stinging about the outgoing government and advises the CPM — "now it is the prime responsibility of the party to introspect and understand why the peasants who had always been dependent on them and had been loyal voters, became alienated. Why Muslims, who could not even think of being disloyal, were compelled to change their strategy. Why the common citizens who, despite Communist parties' disappearance from most states, considered CPM their sympathiser and friend, now got annoyed." Rashtriya Sahara's editor Aziz Burney says; "none of these state elections were fought on the plank of secularism versus communalism. That is, no one tried to secure Muslim votes on the basis of emotion or polarising anti-Muslim sentiment."

After Osama

The killing of Osama bin Laden and subsequent US statements have generated an intriguing debate. Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat, in a front-page comment on May 10 writes, "nobody can say with certainty whether Osama bin Laden is now alive or dead and, if dead, when he actually died. The whole world is compelled to repeat the lessons taught by the American demons (rakshasas)." The paper asks, "was there no need to interrogate him about his network? Was it wise to kill him, or to eliminate him after arresting him and finding out all about his network?"

Rashtriya Sahara writes in an editorial on May 8: "The US argument on the Abbottabad operation is that it has acted against a person who was a threat to every country. But...viewed from this standpoint, there is no major difference between the terrorists of 26/11 and Osama, except the fact that Osama became a criminal for the world community because he was a criminal for the US. Meanwhile an effort is being made to view the 26/11 terrorism merely as a crime against India." Veteran journalist and lyricist Hasan Kamal writes in his column in Sahafat on May 9: "Regarding the claim that America conducted the entire Abbottabad operation on its own and did not take any help of the Pakistani army or the ISI... No country can conduct any military operation in another country without its permission or, at least, keeping it informed. It is impossible from the point of view of international laws. Only a few days before this episode, the chief of Pakistan's ISI, Shuja Pasha reached Washington and left in the evening. What was the message that he so quietly delivered to the US officials? The propaganda that there has been a major crack in the relations between US and Pakistan following the killing of Osama is a huge exaggeration".

Regarding the possible impact of Osama's killing on Indian Muslims, Siasat writes in an editorial on May 5 — "the reaction of Muslims shows that the majority did not show any interest or express any denial or sorrow. Though a mischievous effort was made by some to find out what Muslims felt about Osama, they were disappointed by the complete disinterest." Munsif , in its editorial on May 3 asks; "now that Osama bin Laden has been killed, will the US call back its forces from Afghanistan? Afghanistan was attacked only over the demand for handing Osama over to the US. If the American war is not against Islam, the US or its allies should not be concerned with the situation in Afghanistan after the death of Osama bin Laden."

Ayodhya judgement

The Supreme Court's order staying the judgment of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on the title suit on Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi has been largely welcomed. Munsif writes in an editorial on May 11: "the Allahabad high court had taken six decades to give its judgment on Ayodhya's controversial title suit issue. The Supreme Court took a few months in rejecting this judgment. At the ground level, it is significant because soon after expression of a sense of satisfaction at the Allahabad judgment, opposition to it had started. The manner in which it had ordered a division of the site violated the principles of justice."

Siasat, in its editorial on the same day, writes: "the Supreme Court, by ordering status quo on the Ayodhya site and permitting worship has only tried to contain the intensity of the dispute. The ends of justice would have been fully met if it had ordered the stoppage of worship in the makeshift temple while ordering status quo... The Supreme Court has also provided the possibility of a judgment based on sentiments."







Badal Sircar remained, in many ways, the outsider in Indian theatre. He was a prolific playwright, author or more than 50 plays. Ebong Indrajeet (Evam Indrajeet, 'And Indrajeet', 1963) and Pagla Ghoda ('Mad Horse', 1967) are undisputed classics of the modern Indian stage, translated into several languages and performed across the country. They blazed a trail, and opened new vistas. Badal Sircar was a playwright of great power and technical sophistication. Playwrights and directors we consider masters today — Shombhu Mitra, Girish Karnad, Satyadev Dubey, B.V. Karanth, among others — acknowledged their artistic debt to Badal Sircar. He received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1968, and the Padmashri in 1969.

And yet, when he was at the peak of his creativity, hailed as a modern master, he quit and went away.

He didn't quit writing, and he didn't go away from theatre. He quit being a "playwright", and abandoned the urban proscenium stage of psychological realism and the box set, a theatre that showcased the actor and his virtuosity. But he couldn't simply have embraced the rural theatre. He was city-bred, and he did not want to be an imposter in the rural theatre. So he created what he called the "Third Theatre" (later he abandoned this term for "free theatre").

Badal Sircar's theatre was a theatre that lived and breathed among the common people, that spoke of their lives, cried their tears and dreamed their dreams. This was theatre for social change. In the early '70s , the world, especially Bengal, was in turmoil, and this is the turmoil Badal Sircar captured with such precision in his third classic, Michhil (Juloos, 'Procession', 1972). He had already formed his theatre group Satabdi, in 1967. Badal Sircar and Satabdi performed their plays anywhere — in large rooms or halls, in the open, in fields, in parks and gardens. This was "free" theatre. It required no ticket to see it, and it required very little money to do.

What it did require, though, was imagination. Too much of what goes in the name of street theatre (particularly today, when the NGOs have appropriated the form to a great extent) is patronising, artistically weak, imaginatively barren and plain boring. Badal Sircar's theatre was never barren, intellectually or aesthetically. You might or might not agree with him, but you could not dismiss his theatre. He was influenced by the methods of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, and in plays such as Bashi Khobor (Basi Khabar, 'Stale News', 1978) and Bhoma (1979), Satabdi created some of the finest instances of "physical theatre" in India.

In other words, in Badal Sircar's work, writing, directing, and acting in plays became seamless parts of the larger process of creating theatre. And while he continued writing plays, the act of creating theatre involved, more and more, the reconfiguration of the performance space, and manipulation of actors' bodies and voices to create meaning.

What Badal Sircar also did was to seed practice and train practitioners. This is a part of his legacy that has not been appreciated enough. But through the 1970s, he travelled all over the country, holding workshops in the techniques he was exploring. The Kannada theatre group Samudaya (the theatre director Prasanna was associated with it, as was, though not so centrally, B.V. Karanth) first did street theatre in 1978 following a workshop with him. Samudaya went on to become one of the finest exponents of street theatre in the coming years.

Or take the case of the Manipuri director, Heisnam Kanhailal. Having to leave the National School of Drama because he couldn't manage the "high" Hindi expected of him, Kanhailal found his own unique idiom after a workshop with Sircar. Kanhailal's extraordinary work, including early classics such as Pebet, Memoirs of Africa and, later, Draupadi and Dakghar, could not have been possible without Badal Sircar's defining influence. It is an irony that while Badal Sircar's plays for the proscenium stage remain justly well-known, his post-proscenium career is hazy in the minds of theatre lovers. But perhaps that is how he wished it. He was a man who had walked away from the spotlight.

His last years were spent, by all accounts, in some financial difficulty. While some festivals and groups did confer awards upon him, he got no institutional support. We, as a nation, must hang our heads in shame at this. Too many artists who have played defining roles in the creation of modern India have died in need.

Badal Sircar went the day the Left Front lost. Trust him to time his exit perfectly. The "end of an era" is a cliché. I never met him, but he was a moral compass. He embodied everything that drew me to left-wing theatre — the inventiveness of the form, its rough texture, the ability to say a lot with very little, an unwavering commitment to the people, smell of the earth, and of the rain. Habib Tanvir died in 2009, and now Badal Sircar. The touchstones are gone.

The writer is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, and works as editor with LeftWord Books








A prominent leader closely connected to the Left told me something to the effect of, "I am not sure Buddha (Chief Minister Bhattacharjee) knows what he is doing — the middle classes love him now, but they will abandon him the moment anything goes wrong — on the other hand, cultivating big industrialists costs us with the people who have always been with the Left".

I am sure he would have much preferred to have been wrong that day to what actually happened subsequently, but he was an early proponent of a theory that I have heard from many others in recent years — that in Bengal, it is never a good idea to expose your left flank. Any idea, however meretricious, can achieve a certain amount of legitimacy in Bengal, it is said, as long as it is couched in terms of the opposed interests of the poor and some shadowy capitalist.

There is certainly something to this view. I hold no brief for the Salim Group, but the way their name got turned into an expletive in southern Bengal has to be a little bit frightening. Nevertheless, I am not sure Bhattacharjee had much of a choice. His first election as leader, we must remember, was 2001, when the Left squeaked through because the Congress and the Trinamool were fighting each other. The so-called Jyoti Basu strategy, that the Left should focus on agriculture and small-scale industry and largely ignore the rest, looked like it had run its course, in part because people like change, and in part because the Left seemed to have run out of ideas or at least lost its enthusiasm for pushing new ones. Most of the more important interventions into agriculture were over, it seems, by the mid-'90s, and from then on, the Left was increasingly relying on the lack of a credible opposition to win elections.

Bhattacharjee, anticipating that this could not go on forever, decided that it was his job to reinvent the Left as the party of industrialisation. It is not clear that he had much of a choice; the failure to create large numbers of the kind of stable well-paid jobs that come from large-scale industrialisation was West Bengal's most glaring failure. Despite the Left's oft-repeated claims about how Bengal leads the nation in job creation in the unorganised sector, it was clear to everyone including the man in the street, that this was to a significant extent a result of its inability to create the more desirable kinds of jobs.

The trouble was that the push to industrialise never really went anywhere. Even in the go-go years of 2006 to 2008, less than 30,000 jobs were created per year, according to the Left Front's own propaganda document. That is less than one job per every three thousand people in the state. Then, of course, Mamata Banerjee stepped in to derail the whole process and claim her place in history.

As irony would have it, her position right now is not unlike Bhattacharjee's in 2006. She comes riding in on hope, but as her predecessor just learnt, hope denied will bite you back. She is promising industrialisation, but nothing about the way she came to power suggests that it will be easy. She inherits all the reasons why the previous government did not get very far (bad infrastructure, a history of industrial conflicts, an unhelpful bureaucracy, an unsympathetic population) but adds to them her own peculiar liabilities: a reputation for being mercurial (to say the least), a history of ominous pronouncements ("only non-polluting industries in West Bengal"— what industry that employs blue-collar labour does not pollute a little?), the hostility of CITU activists, finally freed from the responsibility of being a governing party and most glaringly, a campaign founded on her success in chasing some prominent industrialists out of Bengal. The Trinamool manifesto promised reopening moribund PSUs, but the state will not (and probably should not) have the money to do very much in that direction.

My one suggestion to her government would be to start out by downplaying all the stuff about industrialisation (blame the unhelpful "Centre", the previous government's deplorable record, whoever) and emphasise that this will be a government of good governance and delivering to the people. This leverages her one great advantage over the Left — the fact that she is, as of now, less beholden to local power brokers — public sector unions, teachers associations, "dadas" and enemies of good governance more generally — and therefore can afford to take them on. It still will not be easy — these are people who have enjoyed power and influence for many years and will fight to protect them. To make matters worse, there are surely many among her own supporters who signed up precisely because they thought this was the way to become new local power brokers. But her reputation for being stubborn and ruthless might really help her here.

If she can actually make the state work better for the average person (teachers that teach, roads that don't get washed away, hospitals that work, ration shops that deliver, etc.), and equally importantly, manage to keep her ascendant supporters from getting involved in a civil war with the retreating troops of the Left, she will have another chance, as Nitish Kumar has shown us. And then industry will come calling.

The writer is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT








The sharp escalation in the farmers' protests on the Yamuna Expressway certainly had a big role to play, but if the first announcement made by the newly-created Group of Ministers on media affairs had P Chidambaram promising that UPA-2 will introduce the long-awaited Land Acquisition Bill in the next Parliamentary session, it tells you how important this is. For India's politics, for its hopes to rapidly industrialise, urbanise and develop high-class infrastructure. There are statistics about how the difficulty of securing land has stalled projects worth more than $100 billion across the country. Intended to find a way out of the quicksand, a 2007 draft of the Bill (to replace the 1894 Act) proposed that private players requiring land for "public purpose" would buy 70% of the land needed while the balance 30% would be acquired by the state government concerned. While the thought of buying 70% of the land on its own sent shivers up India Inc's collective spine, UPA's key ally Mamata Banerjee who had staked her reputation on protesting the Singur and Nandigram land acquisitions wants industry to buy 90% of the land before the government steps in. Now that she is riding a historical wave of power in West Bengal, with a lot of the "credit" for her Opposition's defeat going to the Singur and Nandigram episodes, the odds of her backtracking have got a bit shorter, which means UPA will have to work some quid pro quo to get her support for the Bill. But the Yamuna Expressway controversy has everyone from the BSP and the BJP saying we need a new land acquisition law. And it's this consensus that the government can build on.

While Mayawati's 2010 resettlement and rehabilitation policy has looked good on paper, a Thursday judgement by the Allahabad High Court gives us cause for concern. The court has set aside acquisition of more than 100 hectares of land for "planned industrial development" in Greater Noida, contending a "colourable exercise of powers", noting that even while village land was being acquired for "public purpose", its "purpose" was being converted. "The land is proposed to be acquired at the rate of about R850 a square metre and to be given, within a month, to the builders at R10,000 per square metre, and that too on payment of 5%, on allotment," the court said. The farmers protest because the price of land rises dramatically after it is usage is changed, the land-use conversion takes place after it is sold to the private sector—so why not convert the usage, through a zoning plan, while the land is still with the farmer? That way he will get the right price, and be that much more willing to sell 70%, even 90%, to industry. This still leaves the owners vs tillers conundrum unaddressed. If only those who have land titles are compensated, won't those whose livelihoods aren't compensated continue to demonstrate opposition?





Three years after releasing the first draft, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has finally notified the regulatory framework for 'combinations' applicable with effect from June 1, making approval mandatory for all M&A that create joint assets of over R1,500 crore and a combined turnover of R4,500 crore or more. Approval will also be necessary where the assets and turnover of a target company exceed R250 crore and R750 crore, respectively. According to the chairperson of CCI, "Ninety-five per cent of M&A proposals will be cleared within 30 days and the rest in 180 days." The filing procedure has been simplified and a number of transactions—for example, acquisitions of shareholding of less than 15% in a company, or acquisitions where the acquirer already holds at least 50% of the company—are now exempt. The commission's fees are set at R50,000 and R10 lakh for two levels of scrutiny, significantly and happily lower than the bizarre R10 lakh and R40 lakh proposed earlier.

It is unfortunate that perhaps the fear that corporations will exert pressure has led the CCI to remove the provision for pre-merger consultations. This is an international best practice and pre-merger consultations are thought to be investor-friendly and considerably ease the process. Without this, the maximum time of 180 days specified in the regulation for a merger review may be a challenge. In even the EU, merger reviews take between six and nine months for fast-track procedures and 20 months to two years for normal cases. Another gap is the lack of harmonisation of the regulations with the Sebi takeover Code. Assuming that a potential acquirer intends to acquire more than 15% stake in a listed entity, an open offer must be made as per Sebi. Under certain conditions, this may also have to be notified to the CCI. In this case, shares tendered in the open offer cannot be transferred to the acquirer until receipt of the approval of CCI or expiry of 180 days from the date of filing, with the inherent possibility of breaching Sebi's time limit for payments to shareholders, which must be settled within 15 days of close of the offer. But, instead of being critical, we should, for the moment, rejoice that we have now achieved parity with the 100-odd countries that have an M&A regime in place. For its success, one will simply have to wait and watch.






Though assembly elections are generally guided by regional considerations, one can still read some overarching patterns from the just concluded polls which appear to transcend local factors. India's impressive economic growth story has unleashed forces that our political class is still trying to fathom. In the process, politicians are making costly mistakes along the way. The stunning reversals in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in some ways present two fascinating aspects of how the political class fails to read the young, aspirational voting population.

The Left Front government in West Bengal suffered because it was perhaps too late in graduating West Bengal from a predominantly agriculture economy to a robust industrial existence, which should have been a natural transition even from a historical Marxist perspective. It failed to do so in 34 years that it was in power.

In contrast, the DMK government in Tamil Nadu was very industry friendly and took care to see that the materialist aspirations of the people were fully catered to. But the DMK too got severely punished because it keeled over to the other extreme of promoting naked crony capitalism, whether by its minister A Raja at the Centre or by Karunanidhi's larger clan in Tamil Nadu. The voters were so angry with the DMK running the state like its own piece of real estate that Karunanidhi suffered the most humiliating defeat. The DMK's tally is even lower than that of actor Vijaykanth's fledgling outfit in Tamil Nadu.

The broader theme which politicians may want to take note of is voters have badly punished both lack of industrial development—West Bengal, as well as too much crony capitalism—Tamil Nadu.

There appears to be a subtle lesson here for the ruling UPA, which will face the general elections in 2014. Of course, there is also the all important elections to the legislative assembly in Uttar Pradesh that will test the Mayawati government on the same yardstick. Mayawati is faring quite well on the development index but is vulnerable in the context of cronyism.

West Bengal and Tamil Nadu results clearly tell us that governments will have to deliver development without succumbing to the forces of cronyism. Both these aspects are equally critical. Failure on either score will anger an increasingly aspirational voter. This will be the Litmus test for the Congress party in the next three years. The Congress must therefore study the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu verdicts very closely.

Both the Left Front in West Bengal and the DMK in Tamil Nadu read the tea leaves wrong. The housing minister of West Bengal, Gautam Deb, told some journalists just before the concluding phase of the state elections that the Marxists managed to stay in power for 34 years because the heightened political consciousness of the Bengalis made them immune to material needs. This was virtually turning Karl Marx on his head, whose entire treatise is based on the premise that materialism is the strongest social force in history!

The DMK, on the other hand, was overconfident that it had virtually catered to all the material needs of its people, by hook or by crook. That boomeranged as well. And how badly.

The Congress must internalise the sub-texts of these two verdicts. The Congress has wasted over two years not getting enough clarity on either of the two aspects discussed above. The Congress is not clear as to what sort of capitalist development model it wants. Senior Cabinet ministers are still debating whether India should produce 1 lakh MW of electricity in the 12th Plan! If so, will it be consistent with our environmental goals and will it meet our commitments in regard to climate change mitigation made at Cancun?

On attacking crony capitalism, the Congress-led UPA had initially shown no conviction but has made amends in recent months with the arrest of ministers, businessmen and bureaucrats in connection with various scams.

The UPA is on the right track insofar as tackling cronyism goes. But the flip side of this is that the bureaucracy is not taking decisions easily. There has to be conviction on both counts—driving development and discouraging cronyism. One without the other will not work, as the recent polls have shown.

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will also have to shed her luddite image and deliver on development. This requires conviction about the need for rapid industrialisation. This writer met some village elders who had led the Singur protest against the Tata Nano project, and had steadfastly supported Mamata Banerjee. They now want some big project to come on the same spot where Tatas had put up an entire structure to run a car plant. Mamata will do well to bring some industrial enterprise in Singur to show her commitment to a new paradigm of development and employment.

Mamata Banerjee must also ensure a smooth passage of the amended Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, which would give farmers a much better deal in the event of their land being acquired for industrialisation. If Mamata fails to deliver on development, she is sure to suffer the same fate as the Left Front.

She won't have the leeway—of 34 years in power—that the Marxists got. For another lesson from the assembly polls is that the younger electorate is getting angry and impatient more quickly now. There is far less emotional space given to erring politicians now.





First, the good news: private equity (PE) in India is on a rebound. Deal volumes in 2010, at $9.5bn, are more than twice the volume in 2009 at $4.5bn. Going forward, deal volumes in the current year and 2012 are expected to stay strong and perhaps improve. Next, the bad news: less than 20% of the capital provided in this asset class will come from domestic sources. What is worse, but not surprising, is that this percentage is expected to drop in the future *.

Contrast this with what is happening in China: there is a clear and strong trend of domestication of the PE industry. The regulatory environment in China has continued to evolve to support a domestic PE industry. In 2010, of the $18bn of fresh capital raised by the PE industry, nearly half was RMB-denominated capital **. Both indigenous and global firms are setting up RMB denominated funds organised locally. Domestic PE in any country refers to those PE funds that are domiciled locally as opposed to being organised in offshore domiciles (offshore PE funds). The trends in China are driven through conscious efforts by regulators to promote the systematic development of private capital markets aligned with national interests. In fact, regulators globally are increasingly aware of the need to balance the source and character of capital inflows into their economies.

In India, we should draw our own lessons from experiences post the 2008 Lehman crisis. An extreme and unbalanced reliance on foreign capital flows ended up coupling our economy to the global financial crisis, even though fundamentally we are a fairly insulated economy. Simply speaking, a capital market controlled by foreign investors placed the average Indian retail investor in harm's way despite a largely domestic economy. In order to prevent a repeat of the same, we need to ensure a balanced development of our capital markets, both private and public. The focus should be on providing a level playing field to both domestic and offshore PE funds. Not by making life more difficult for offshore PE but by removing the systemic disadvantages for domestic PE.

In order to promote the domestication of Indian PE, we need to address four systemic issues. First, organisational—how does one organise a PE/VC fund in India? The enabling laws needed to help funds organise themselves do not exist in an optimal form in India. Indian funds are organised under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, under a structure ill-suited to this form of capital. On the other hand, funds in other parts of the world are largely organised as limited liability partnerships (LLPs). Investors need a tax transparent structure under which they can organise themselves and hand over the management to a professional manager who, in return for certain economics, assumes fiduciary responsibility and liability. The Indian LLP Act was for many years the promised solution to the problem until it actually arrived. One of the biggest beneficiaries was supposed to be the fledgling domestic PE industry, but that hope was destroyed as soon as investing was denied as an acceptable purpose of LLPs. The final rites were conducted by the Finance Bill, 2011, which introduced MAT for LLPs.

The second issue is a hostile and volatile tax environment. Investors that invest in domestic PE funds face multiple incremental risks. Investors risk higher taxes, being taxed twice, being denied tax credit in their home domiciles and frequent changes in taxation rules. As a result, global investors prefer to invest in offshore funds that are organised in offshore domiciles and which invest in India through the FDI route. An investment into a PE fund implies a long-term contract between the investor and the fund manager. No wonder, under the current environment, domestic PE funds are able to attract capital only from domestic investors and not global investors. Domestic investors do not have the choice of investing in offshore funds whereas global investors do.

The third issue is dysfunctional regulation. Domestic PE/VC funds in India are regulated by Sebi under the venture capital funds (VCF) guidelines. Current regulations place domestic funds at a disadvantage when compared to offshore funds. They do so by restricting the scope of their activities and the breadth of sectors where they invest. The underlying logic for the same is mysterious. Is there a single sector in the Indian economy that does not need capital or innovation? In India, these regulations again promote choices in favour of offshore funds that invest under the FDI regime, which is a far more liberal regime.

Finally, domestic PE in India suffers from the lack of a domestic investor base. Normally, the institutional investor base for PE funds comprises of institutional investors such as pension funds, banks, insurance companies, educational endowments and charitable institutions. Investors also include private sources such as family offices and HNIs. While there is some evidence of an emerging HNI investor base, the institutional segment in India is unusually weak. Restrictive regulations are the primary reason behind this. For eg, pension funds cannot invest in PE funds.

A domestic investor base will provide an incentive for funds to organise themselves domestically and also help impart a local and more relevant character to their investing behaviour. Support from local institutions also has an important signalling effect on global investors. The presence of domestic investors is seen as a measure of validation and credibility. In the short term we can, of course, build a domestic PE industry based entirely on a global investor base but in the long term there is no substitute for a domestic investor base.

India needs substantial amounts of capital on a long-term basis. Not only do we need to promote the growth of our capital markets but also work to ensure that they retain a strong domestic character. We have ended up exporting our capital markets abroad. It seems that our craze for 'phoren' has not abated with time. A strong domestic character in our private and public capital markets will help our economy and entrepreneurs. Clearly, other countries such as China get it. When will we?

* IVCA Bain India Private Equity report 2011

** PwC Asia Pacific Tax Bulletin April 2011

The author is founder & managing partner, Gaja Capital Partners, an India-focused PE firm







A bare legislative majority based on an expedient coalition of parties can hardly be the basis for a new government undertaking any radical restructuring of a State's political economy. In the 2011 Assembly election, Kerala voters clearly wanted an improvement in the creation of infrastructure and in the delivery of services — but not a complete change of course after five years under the government of the Left Democratic Front headed by the Communist Party of India(Marxist). The Congress-led United Democratic Front needs to try and build on the achievements of the outgoing V.S. Achuthanandan government, bridging the shortfalls in social welfare measures and hastening the completion of development projects. The UDF owed its narrow 72-68 victory in the 140-seat Assembly to the strong showing of the Muslim League, which won 20 seats, and the Kerala Congress (M), a party seeking to represent Christians, which took nine seats. The consolidation of Muslim and Christian votes, and the consequent pressures these two sectional parties could bring to bear on the Congress, are likely to pose difficulties in governance for the UDF. Like the CPI(M) in Kerala, the State Congress is faction-ridden. This UDF dispensation will, of necessity, be a balancing act, accommodating the demands of competing sections and, to an extent, conflicting interests. The danger is that in such circumstances political survival can become an end in itself.

The long-term challenge in Kerala — way and ahead India's socially most advanced State, the one State where programmes of mass employment can draw on the talents of an educated and skilled workforce — is to develop the material forces of production. This means diversifying and bringing value addition to agriculture, discovering new sources for knowledge-based, high-tech, and sustainable industrialisation, and creating suitable employment opportunities. In the social sector, the immediate need is to restore the State's famous universal Public Distribution System — which succeeded in raising the nutritional status of a whole generation but has been unfortunately replaced by a targeted system — and to find the resources to finance this re-universalisation. Building a system of universal health care will be another challenge. The UDF would do well to be modest in victory, and reach out to an opposition that is strong, active, and in good spirit as a result of the remarkable late surge created by Chief Minister Achuthanandan's anti-corruption campaign. In keeping with the character of its mandate, the UDF government must strive for a political consensus on how to move Kerala on to a higher growth trajectory while retaining and strengthening its advanced social sector.





The question whether all human clinical trials undertaken in India are conducted ethically has been answered. The final report of the three-member committee appointed by the central government to go into the alleged irregularities in the conduct of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine trial reveals gross ethical violations. The trial, suspended since March 2010, was carried out by the Program for Appropriate Technology and Health (PATH), an NGO, in collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat governments and the Indian Council of Medical Research. It was conducted on nearly 23,500 girls in the 10-14 years age group in Khammam district (Andhra Pradesh) and Vadodra (Gujarat). The "casual approach," which saw the informed consent forms, the most sacrosanct trial documents, being filled "very carelessly" with "incomplete and probably inaccurate" information is shocking. In Andhra Pradesh, nearly 2,800 consent forms were signed by a hostel warden or headmaster, as the 'guardian'. The justification: the parents were not easily reachable! That being the case, and since it was a research study and not an emergency, should such children have been enrolled at all? What ethical justification can there be for the warden or headmaster acting as a "legally acceptable representative" to meet the requirements of the 1945 Schedule Y of Drugs and Cosmetics Rules? Since students have "reduced autonomy," the fact that teachers played a "primary role" in explaining and "obtaining consent" meant that the consent was obtained under duress, in a legally untenable way.

The trial came under scrutiny following a public outcry over the death of seven children. Although the cause of the deaths was found to be unrelated to vaccination, the incident revealed a total failure of the mechanism to monitor the 'volunteers' for both serious and non-serious adverse events following vaccination. There was a five-month delay in reporting a death, while two deaths in Khammam district went unreported. Ironically, while measuring and reporting the adverse events after vaccination were the "primary end points of the study," the Principal and Co-Principal investigators failed to report all such events to the sponsor within a day, as required under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules. That widespread transgressions of prescribed procedures and norms have been detected in conducting the trial, despite the apex medical body being a part of it, and that the investigating committee has done little by way of fixing responsibility, sends out a highly damaging message.







The year was 1992. Chaotic days in April, as one Sunday morning Benon Sevan, United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy, came to the High Commission in Islamabad straight from a conference with the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, seeking political asylum for Afghan President Najibullah in India as part of a deal for the orderly transition of power in Kabul to the mujahideen who had surrounded the Afghan capital. I spoke to the then Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, on open line in Malayalam and sought instructions, which came within the hour: Narasimha Rao ordered that Najib would be our state guest. Najib never made it to Delhi and my subsequent meetings with him used to be in the U.N. compound in Kabul where he was interned till his murder in 1996.

The communist government of Najibullah was overthrown by the mujahideen. A government under Burhanuddin Rabbani got installed in Kabul by June in terms of the Islamabad accord mediated by Mr. Sharif. Mr. Sharif took the mujahideen leaders to Saudi Arabia to pray before they were sent across to Kabul to govern. Pakistani influence on the Kabul government was deemed paramount. Our Mission in Kabul was vandalised and we wound up diplomatic presence. Hardly a few weeks passed; sometime in late August, soon after I was reassigned to South Block, we received a curious "feeler" from Mr. Rabbani's government. Would New Delhi allow a refuelling halt for the presidential aircraft proceeding to Jakarta, ferrying the Afghan delegation to the Non-Aligned summit, on September 1? We figured out that the mujahideen leadership was looking for an alibi to establish contact. Indeed, we warmly hosted Mr. Rabbani and a planeload of mujahideen commanders, including some frightening names vowed to eternal enmity toward India. Thus began a new chapter in the chronicle of India's relations with Afghanistan.

In fleshing out the new thinking fraught with dangers, Rao put down thoughtful markers so that South Block could choreograph a durable policy architecture. One, we should deal with all mujahideen groups without fear or favour and contact should be established with anyone and everyone willing to meet us despite the militancy of their Islamism. Two, we would deal with whosoever was in power in Kabul and focus would be on cultivating a friendly government that was sensitive to India's vital interests and core concerns. Three, dealings would be strictly with the government in Kabul, no matter its proximity with Pakistan or its security agencies. Four, we would neither arm any Afghan group nor ostracise any — not even the Wahhabi group of Ittehad headed by Rasul Sayyaf to which Jalaluddin Haqqani owed allegiance at that time. Five, we would focus on people-to-people relationship, tap into the reservoir of goodwill toward India and meaningfully contribute to Afghanistan's economic welfare within our capabilities and resources (which were limited at that time).

This policy continued till the Taliban captured power in 1996. In essence, what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh achieved during his visit to Kabul last week was to reset India's Afghan policy to its pristine moorings. Dr. Singh did this with great diplomatic aplomb and intellectual sophistication and it has come not a day too soon. There is always the possibility that he has again outstripped the opinion-makers in our country. Some uncharitable criticism can already be heard. Therefore, we need to ponder over what Dr. Singh achieved.

Most important, Delhi has made a leap of faith with regard to the controversial issue of reconciliation with the Taliban. In essence, Delhi feels that if reconciliation is the collective Afghan wish, India would go along with it. India would, however, wish that the peace process is "Afghan-led." Dr. Singh declared support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation programme. This, in my view, is an eminently realistic position. It brings the Indian stance in line with the mainstream Afghan thinking. In any case, it was an aberration that a civilisation like India with such insight into the shades of political Islam had a mental bloc about the Taliban. No country today questions the wisdom of reconciling with the Taliban.

Implicit in this "leap of faith" is the awareness that Pakistan enjoys a close relationship with the Taliban. This brings us to a template that is going to be very crucial. The government has done extraordinarily well in doing all that is possible to dispel the cloud of suspicion in the Pakistani mind about India's intentions in Afghanistan — that our two countries needn't be locked in a zero-sum game. Our hope is that there could be a new calmness in the Pakistani eye as it scans the horizon and surveys India's activities. This approach must be counted as singularly imaginative on the part of the Indian policymaker. It is audacious, since there is no illusion that Pakistani policies in Afghanistan may still move on the same hackneyed, extravagantly wasteful and futile track of the past quarter century and more.

Of course, Pakistan would have lingering suspicions; and India's security worries, too, are profound. And it is going to be a long way down the line before India and Pakistan can actually think of cooperating in the stabilisation of Afghanistan. But the incremental removal of the "Afghan contradiction" from the cauldron of India-Pakistan differences itself would have a positive impact on the climate in which India-Pakistan dialogue is currently proceeding. Second, it will make a little bit lighter the burden of working out an enduring Afghan settlement.

Neither Dr. Singh nor Mr. Karzai showed the least bit of interest in rhetoric or grandstanding vis-à-vis Pakistan. Delhi knows Mr. Karzai can't do without Pakistan to steer the peace process forward but that doesn't discourage it from cooperating with him. On his part, Mr. Karzai underscores the willingness to be mindful of India's legitimate interests and concerns. It has been agreed that the key policymakers at the level of national security advisors will work together. Both Dr. Singh and Mr. Karzai seem to hope that in the downstream of the killing of Osama bin Laden, there could be a new awareness among regional powers, especially Pakistan, about the dangerous ramifications of terrorism. Dr. Singh called for a thorough probe into bin Laden's scandalous stay in the cantonment town of Abbottabad, but he also drew a distinction between India's approach to tackling terrorism and America's methods. This must be counted as one of his most significant remarks made from Afghan soil. Its resonance for regional security cannot be overlooked.

Dr. Singh conclusively buried the notions regarding Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. This may trigger despondency among our chest-thumping hard line pundits but Afghanistan is a classic situation where fools rush in, while angels fear to tread. Below the threshold of military involvement, India can help stabilise the Afghan situation. The primary benchmark ought to be the needs and demands of the Kabul government for "capacity-building." India's offer to provide training for Afghan police officers is a big initiative, as in a post-settlement scenario, the police force is going to play an even more important role in enhancing security than the standing army.

Dr. Singh's decision to have an overnight stay in Kabul was imbued with the political symbolism that India has the grit to follow-up on its commitments. It would have gone down well in the local perceptions of India as a benign neighbour and steadfast ally who cares deeply for the sufferings of the Afghan people. Equally, his address to the Afghan parliament was a reiteration of the bonds with the Afghan nation that transcend the ebb and flow of current history and politics. The announcement of a $500-million aid package is a timely gesture to reiterate India's abiding interest in the stability and progress of that country on the path of development.

The only missing link in Dr. Singh's visit is that Delhi hasn't spoken a word about Afghanistan's "neutrality." The big question remains unanswered: is Delhi for or against a long-term western troop presence in Afghanistan? This question will loom large in the coming months. The consensus opinion in the region is against foreign military presence. But the United States is working toward winding down the tempo of the war so that a troop drawdown is possible, while envisaging a long-term military presence. The pattern is the same as in Iraq where Washington is making desperate efforts to extract from the Baghdad government a framework agreement that allows U.S. troops to somehow remain in Mesopotamia beyond end-2011. Mr. Karzai is also coming under U.S. pressure. In the Hindu Kush, woven into this question is the U.S.'s regional policies toward China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia — what passes under the rubric of the "new great game." It will be extremely unwise for India to be impervious to the tide of regional consensus. Let the native genius of the region guide the moving finger of history.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)








Two years before terrorists struck the port city of Mumbai, a Pakistani-American man named David Coleman Headley began laying the groundwork for the attack, financed, he claims, by $25,000 from an officer in Pakistan's powerful intelligence service.

Headley told Indian investigators that the officer, known only as Major Iqbal, "listened to my entire plan to attack India." Another officer with the intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, "assured me of the financial help," Headley said.

As the United States presses Pakistan for answers about whether the ISI played a role in harbouring Osama bin Laden, Headley is set to recount his story of the Mumbai attack in a federal courthouse in Chicago. What he discloses could deepen suspicions that Pakistani spies are connected to terrorists and potentially worsen relations between Washington and Islamabad.

India, the site of the November 2008 attacks, will be closely monitoring the trial for evidence of the ISI's duplicity. Pakistan will also be listening to and is likely to deny Headley's every word. So far, Islamabad has dismissed Headley's accusations against the ISI as little more than a desperate performance by a man hoping to avoid the death penalty.

An American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the U.S. government's view of Headley like so much else surrounding the ISI was murky. No agreement exists in Washington on whether the ISI guided Headley and the attacks on Mumbai.

"It's not very clear," the official said. "A lot of this is going to come out of the trial. His claim could just be his claim."

Still, the very fact that the government is presenting Headley as a prosecution witness suggests that at least some in the government believe he is telling the truth. And the authorities said they expected the government to present emails and tapes of telephone conversations to support his story.

Any new evidence of ISI malfeasance that emerges from the trial will reverberate in Washington too, with the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan at its most tenuous state in years.

A growing chorus on Capitol Hill argues that the discovery of bin Laden's hideout and the evidence in Headley's case leave no doubt that the ISI and its Pakistani military overseers have played a cynical double game with the U.S. Pakistan has received $20 billion in military and development assistance since 2001, and its military, they say, has sheltered bin Laden, supported Afghan Taliban that kills American troops and guided the militants who attacked Mumbai.

Headley himself is not on trial. But he will be the main witness against Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Chicago businessman, accused of providing financial and logistical support for the 2008 siege in Mumbai. The attack, a barrage of gunfire and grenades, killed at least 163 people, including six Americans. Rana's defence is that he agreed to support Headley's activities in India because he was led to believe he was working for the ISI, and therefore the Pakistani government.

Bruce O. Riedel, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution, a former CIA officer and a critic of the ISI, predicted that the upcoming trial would be "the next nail in the coffin of U.S.-Pakistan relations as the ISI's role in the murder of six Americans is revealed in graphic detail."

With precisely that possibility in mind, the American authorities have kept much of the evidence secret. Citing national security concerns, they have successfully moved to quash the defence lawyers' subpoenas for State Department cables and records held by the FBI that discuss Pakistan's links with militants.

And though the government has charged four other men, including the officer known as Iqbal, with aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens, the indictment refers to them either as commanders or associates of the militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, not as having links to the ISI.

In interviews in recent days, American military and intelligence officials who have served in Pakistan argued that the story of the ISI is complex. Some of them portray it as an unwieldy third-world bureaucracy that even Pakistani generals struggle to control. The U.S. should try to reform the ISI, they argue, not abandon it.

"I think we're at an extremely critical juncture," said James Helmly, a retired general who served as the senior American military representative in Pakistan from 2006-08. "We need to mature the relationship."

Arguably the most feared institution in Pakistan, the ISI has a mythic reputation among Pakistanis as a shadow government with a hand in virtually every major development in the country. Human rights and democracy activists say the agency is out of control and accuse it of carrying out hundreds of disappearances, systematically rigging elections and harassing civilians who support peace with India.

They say the American raid that killed bin Laden has created a rare moment when the ISI's judgment and effectiveness are being challenged. Whether the ISI was sheltering bin Laden or was simply unaware of his presence, the agency must be revamped, they say.

In a series of unusual developments in a country long-dominated by its powerful military, the ISI chief twice offered to resign last week. News commentators are criticising the agency and political parties are demanding the ISI be reined in.   

"It depends on the calibre and the grit of the political leadership," Rasul Baksh Rais, a leading Pakistani political scientist, said in an interview. "How they can use this opportunity to restructure the civilian-military relationship and bring the military under civilian control."

American and Pakistani officials said the ISI was still dominated by military officers wedded to an outdated, paranoid and dangerous mindset the CIA helped create during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. More ultranationalists than jihadists, the ISI's officers consider themselves to be Pakistan's true guardians. They see the U.S. as a feckless and immoral power in deep decline, India as Pakistan's main threat and militants as proxies they can control.

"They were set on this path a long time ago, this pro-Jihadi, anti-India tact," said Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani journalist and human rights activist. "Regardless of policy changes in Pakistan and America, they are continuing on the same line."

A former American intelligence official said the CIA funnelled vast amounts of covert aid to more cooperative sections of the ISI in an effort to strengthen them. Former American officials said they did the same with the Pakistani army. But progress has been slow.

U.S. critics of the ISI say it will never be reformed or weakened by Pakistan's civilian leadership. They say that proponents of continuing to send American aid to the ISI are naive "apologists" for an agency that has repeatedly double-crossed the U.S. 

The man who is suddenly an important figure in the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S., Headley, may not be the most reliable witness, despite some evidence that he has worked closely with intelligence and drug agencies in America and abroad. His adult life is a blur of deceit, involving multiple marriages, illegal business deals and numerous turns in and out of jail.

He is the son of a Pakistani diplomat and Philadelphia socialite, and he was given the name Daood Gilani at birth. He graduated from a Pakistani military academy and then moved to Philadelphia, where he ran his mother's bar into the ground, partly by squandering its money on alcohol and drugs.

Headley quickly went from abusing drugs to trafficking them, according to court records. And then, in order to avoid long prison sentences, he became a valuable informant to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which began sending him to work in Pakistan.

In February 2002, while still under contract with the DEA, Headley began training with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which aims to wrest control of disputed territory in Kashmir from India. He told investigators he had changed his name and used his dual nationality to move easily across borders on behalf of the group.

Then in 2006, Headley told investigators, he met Iqbal. Headley described the officer as "fat, with a moustache, big head, thick hair, deep voice."

He said Iqbal introduced him to a senior ISI officer who offered to provide financial support for Headley's Lashkar activities in India if Headley agreed to share any intelligence he gathered in India with the ISI.

Rana's defence will succeed or fail on his lawyers' ability to discredit Headley, who, according to court records, has a history of alcohol and drug abuse. Under threat of prosecution for drug trafficking, he became an informant in Pakistan for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The defence lawyers are expected to attempt to show that Headley has a long history of deceiving American law-enforcement authorities. One anticipated piece of evidence is an informant agreement, which would provide the most conclusive evidence yet that Headley was under contract with the DEA when he began training with terrorists.

Authorities with knowledge of the case say that the lawyers are also considering summoning one of Headley's ex-wives, a New York woman who works at a department store makeup counter. The attorneys may want the woman to describe how she warned the FBI that her husband was plotting with terrorists, and how the government failed to thoroughly investigate her accusations because Headley convinced them she was lying.

The case is a microcosm of the missteps, distrust, and confusion that has marked the American efforts in Pakistan since 2001, according to current and former American officials. But whatever evidence the trial produces, current and former American officials said, it would be a mistake to cut off all American aid to the ISI or the Pakistani military.

Marty Martin, a retired CIA official who oversaw the hunt for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004, said slashing assistance would further isolate Pakistani officers who cooperated with the U.S. and embolden the powerful militant groups that span Pakistan.

"There is no option except to continue working with them," Martin said. "Why? This is not over."

New York Times News Service







Six people, including two imams at South Florida mosques, have been indicted on federal charges of providing financial support and encouraging violence by the Pakistani Taliban, the U.S. attorney in Miami announced on Saturday.

The indictment, which was handed up on Thursday, charged Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, the imam at the Miami Mosque (also known as the Flagler Mosque), the oldest mosque in Miami. The indictment also charged two of the imam's sons: Izhar Khan, 24, the imam at the Jamaat Al-Mumineen Mosque in nearby Margate, Florida; and Irfan Khan, 37, of North Lauderdale, Florida. All three men are American citizens who are originally from Pakistan, the authorities said.

The four-count indictment charges the Khans and three others living in Pakistan with conspiring to provide material support to a conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, as well as conspiring to provide about $45,000 in financial support to the Pakistani Taliban from 2008 to 2010.

"Despite being an Imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace," Wilfredo A. Ferrer, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement. "Instead, as today's charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming."

Hafiz and Izhar Khan are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Miami on Monday afternoon. Irfan Khan will be arraigned in Los Angeles on Monday. Each of the four counts in the indictment carries a maximum 15-year prison term.

Prosecutors said the indictment did not charge the mosques. They added that the defendants were charged "based on their provision of material support to terrorism, not on their religious beliefs or teachings."

The Muslim Communities Association of South Florida announced that Hafiz Khan had been suspended indefinitely from his mosque.

"Our organisations, together through the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, have been working with the U.S. attorney's office and the Miami FBI office," the association said in a statement released on Saturday afternoon, "and appreciate the efforts of law enforcement to root out potential sources and supporters of terrorism."

The charges of supporting the Pakistani Taliban but not actually carrying out operations are the most common types of terrorism prosecutions that U.S. authorities have pursued since the Sept. 11 attacks. The Pakistani Taliban is closely allied with the al-Qaeda and is responsible for attacks against Pakistani police and military targets in recent years. The indictment comes at a tense moment in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan after Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid by Navy SEALs on May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The Flagler Mosque is a modest house in a working-class Cuban neighbourhood. Before dawn on Saturday, two dozen FBI agents arrived at the mosque, blocking streets and sidewalks. Shortly after 6 a.m., a rap on the mosque door by agents interrupted morning prayers, according to Sama Nassirnia, who was inside praying when the agents arrived. The agents waited until the prayers ended before entering the mosque, after removing their shoes, to arrest the imam, he said. "They were not respectful," Nassirnia said. About the elderly imam, he said, "He's a pious man. This is the most peaceful man there is."

Another of the imam's sons, Ikram Khan, who is a cab driver, angrily left the mosque early on Saturday evening and called the arrests "ridiculous."

"They can do anything they want in America," he said. "They want to scare more people." He said his father had sent money to a madrassa in Pakistan for charitable purposes only. "It only does good things for people," he said, "and it only does the right thing."

Neighbours of the mosque said they heard the call to prayer every Friday. "We saw the older man all the time but they are quiet," said a neighbour, Alina Lahens.

(Lizette Alvarez contributed reporting from Miami, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.)

New York Times News Service






The arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on attempted rape and assault charges in New York on Saturday had the effect of a bombshell in France. Mr. Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to resign his post at the IMF and run for the French presidential poll in 2012. His arrest put an end to a brilliant career as an economist and a politician.

"I am stunned. This news is like a thunderbolt coming from the blue," Socialist Party general secretary Martine Aubry said, calling on her party to respect the principle of the presumption of innocence and to unite in the face of adversity. Many on the French left suggested Mr. Strauss-Kahn could have been framed or could have fallen for a honey trap.

'Dishonour to France'

If Mr. Strauss Kahn's arrest has dealt a body blow to the Socialist Party, it has the French Right wringing its hands in glee. Bernard Debray, MP from the ruling UMP party, showed no qualms about running down Mr. Strauss-Kahn. "He is not a respectable person. He has sex on his mind. This incident brings dishonour to France," Dr. Debray, an eminent surgeon, said.

The French presidential palace put out a quiet statement saying Mr. Strauss-Kahn was innocent until proven guilty. The extreme right National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, said that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had "forfeited his right to lead the French people." She said this was not the first time the IMF chief was caught "womanising." For all accounts and purposes "Mr. Strauss Kahn is finished. His political career is over," Ms Le Pen said.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn's downfall comes at an opportune time for the French right and extreme right. Never has President Nicolas Sarkozy been so low in the polls and never has the extreme right, anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic National Front ridden so high. Dominique Strauss Kahn was the only politician who would have been acceptable to France's centre-right.

His image was that of a market friendly social democrat and he was capable of stealing the centrist vote from President Sarkozy while carrying along sizeable sections of the French left. The sudden end to his political career has left the socialists in disarray with a huge hole which is likely to be filled by several presidential hopefuls, none of whom has the charisma, the brilliance or the pragmatic efficiency that Mr. Strauss-Kahn displayed.

In recent weeks his political rivals, including the right wing press in France, repeatedly attacked him for his flamboyant lifestyle — tailor-made suits at $32,000 apiece, a luxurious villa in Marrakesh, Morocco, and a four-million-dollar flat in Paris' coveted Places des Voges bought for hard cash, not counting his sumptuous five bedroom house in Washington — dubbing him the epitome of what the French working classes derisively and somewhat enviously refer to as the "Caviar Left." But much of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's wealth comes from his third wife, Anne Sinclair, a New-York born journalist who is said to own several major works of art.

Socialists in disarray

The French Socialist Party is not the only institution to find itself in disarray. The question on everyone's lips is: who will be the next chief of the IMF and what will be the future of the reforms Mr. Strauss-Kahn initiated?

The global economy is suffering its worst ever downturn since the Great Depression and Mr. Strauss-Kahn's downfall could not have come at a worse time for not just countries like Greece, Spain or Portugal but also for the reform of the Bretton Woods institutions themselves.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn had hesitantly begun steering the IMF towards more openness to emerging economies and his avowed aim was to end the total domination of Europe and America over the IMF and the World Bank. Traditionally, the World Bank chief is American while the IMF is headed by an European. Mr. Strauss-Kahn is the fourth Frenchman to be elected IMF chief since the Bretton Woods institutions were created in 1944.

The Guardian newspaper in an assessment of Mr. Strauss Kahn wrote: "When he arrived in the autumn of 2007, the fund suffered from three big problems: it had been ideologically wedded to the free-market philosophy of financial liberalisation that caused the world's banking system to implode, it had suffered from weak leadership and it was short of money.

"Strauss-Kahn highlighted the need to focus on employment and accepted that countries facing speculative pressure were justified in using capital controls to defend themselves, an anathema during the high pomp of neo-liberalism, dubbed the Washington consensus."

However, in the Guardian's view, the reforms introduced by Mr. Strauss-Kahn were timid at best and "it is questionable whether the willingness to intervene to smooth out the global imbalances between creditor and debtor nations is more than skin deep."

No guarantee

And now is no guarantee the Fund will continue to follow the trajectory on which Mr. Strauss-Kahn set it when he took over as chief. It is being hinted that one of the subjects he wished to discuss with Angela Merkel during his aborted meeting with the German Chancellor on Sunday evening was his possible successor, since the IMF chief was expected to announce his resignation from the Fund by July. Ms Merkel had also asked for Mr. Strauss-Kahn's analysis and reading of the situation in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The German Finance Ministry is waiting to finalise its conclusions on Greece once the troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission have published the findings of their current ongoing review of the Greek rescue programme.

The importance of the German position on the bailout packages is of great significance since most other European Union nations take their cues from the EU's strongest and most healthy economy. Germany will want to have a say in the nomination of the next IMF chief.

It is unlikely that Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be relieved of his functions in the IMF immediately. In his absence the Fund has named the second in command John Lipsky to officiate at the upcoming meetings. But it is likely that he too will resign by the end of August. He has, however, agreed to stay on in the role of special adviser until after the G20 meetings in November.

High-profile candidates

Several high-profile candidates are already available in Europe, including Britain's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is highly regarded in various European capitals. However, his candidature is likely to be shot down by none other than Prime Minister David Cameron who said on record that the next IMF chief should be from "India, China, or Southeast Asia since the organisation needs someone who understands the dangers of excessive spending."

Emerging nations have resented the amount of money the Fund has given in bailout packages to ailing European economies and these countries could insist on a western-trained economist from their own ranks being named the next chief, thus breaking the West's stranglehold on the IMF and the World Bank

One of the persons tipped to succeed Mr. Strauss-Kahn is Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Other names include Mohamed A El-Erian, the American-born son of an Egyptian diplomat and an economist who leads the giant bond investor Pimco, and Arminio Fraga and Guillermo Ortiz, former heads of the central banks of Brazil and Mexico respectively.




Israel's Prime Minister says he will vigorously defend his country's borders after a mass infiltration from Syria. In a televised address on Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu said he hopes calm will be quickly restored.

But he said, "Nobody should be mistaken. We are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty."

Hundreds of Palestinians stormed across the Syrian border into the Israeli—controlled Golan Heights earlier on Sunday. The border breach set off several hours of violent clashes, leaving at least four people killed.

There were also deadly clashes along the borders of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.









The steep hike in petrol prices announced Saturday, just 24 hours after the five Assembly election results were announced, did not come as any surprise given that the state-owned oil marketing companies were demanding this for months — almost ever since the last increase in January — with the rise in crude prices internationally.

Only, till now, the government's political clearance — which despite deregulation is still required before any hike — was not forthcoming. The oil companies do have a case — as they say, if the international price of crude rises and the government is unwilling for this to be passed on to the consumer, it should subsidise the OMCs to that extent, as no commercial operation can function in an uneconomic manner. It might not be a bad idea for the government to bring out a white paper on this subject — so that the people get a clear picture of where the global price of crude stands and why they have to pay such a high price for petrol and other fuels.
Only petrol prices have been raised now, but hikes in diesel, kerosene and LPG appear imminent, which will add considerably to the burden of the aam aadmi. It might happen as early as the coming week, when the Empowered Group of Ministers dealing with this subject meets. Further, while diesel has not been deregulated so far, proposals to do so are also before the government. Given that the Indian government can do little about international crude prices, the only thing it can consider to give the common man some relief is to reconsider the tax component in the price of petrol and diesel — which in Maharashtra, for example, is as high as 54 per cent — making India's fuel prices one of the costliest in the world. (It is slightly less in Delhi and some other states, but still very high.) What the government perhaps fails to realise is that the burden of such extortionist taxation by the Centre and the states is not borne by rich car owners but by poor and middle class two-wheeler users. Even in relatively rich Mumbai, the number of two-wheelers is five times that of four-wheeled vehicles, and they form the bulk of petrol consumers. In smaller towns and villages across the country, the proportion of two-wheelers is far higher, and it is on them that the brunt of the hikes will fall. Another aspect that is overlooked by the states and the Centre is the natural growth in volumes — around five per cent annually — and they collect taxes on this too. It is also possible that there is some form of double taxation — first on crude and then on the finished product. If so, there is additional scope for giving the consumers some relief. It could also consider a revenue-neutral policy: for example, if it taxes petrol at 10 per cent — `10 per litre when the cost is `100; if the cost goes up to `200 it should lower the rate to five per cent, and still get `10 per litre. Under the existing system, the government's revenues are shooting up while the aam aadmi — already forced to live with rising food inflation — has to suffer.
The government is only too well aware that the burden of indirect taxation is borne unequally — more by the poor than the rich and upper middle classes. All pay the same for petrol or other fuels, but while public sector workers and those who benefited from the Sixth Pay Commission's largesse might be able to absorb the hit on their pockets, the vast army of unorganised sector workers and daily wage earners might go under. With the hike in diesel, LPG and kerosene looming, the government should urgently examine how its burden can be eased for our weakest citizens.






Anger against corruption is now back on the national agenda thanks to Tamil Nadu Assembly results. This state has been decisively voting against corruption over the last several decades. The defeat of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2011 is comparable only to that of the

All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1996. Since the state does not have a credible third alternative (same problem as in national politics), the electorate here always has a Hobson's choice between the DMK and the AIADMK.
The anger of the electorate over corruption had been simmering for quite some time. Corruption did not mean only the 2G spectrum. Every district had a DMK satrap whose family controlled the district. They had become like traditional polegars (palayakkaarans in Tamil) who had the autonomy over their region and had to pay the kisti to the king (read Karunanidhi) at the headquarters where the first family, including the first cousins, dabbled in all fields from sand quarrying to real estate to mega movies where moolah was waiting to be extracted.
The 2G spectrum was actually the last straw on the camel's back. The massive turnout in cities was prompted by the disgust over spectrum among the new generation voters and the educated sections. In small towns and villages poor women were angry that they were getting ruined by government-run liquor shops turning their men into alcoholics and lazy, thanks to the freebies.
A significant though not a big factor that went unnoticed by the national media was the intense campaign against the DMK and the Congress over the Eelam issue. Fringe and marginal Tamil groups led by film personality Seeman carried on a consistent campaign against all Congress candidates holding the Congress regime at the Centre responsible for the slaughter of millions of Tamils in the Eelam final war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Rajapakse government. The price rise and power cuts were other factors that strengthened the anti-incumbency mood. Corruption became the overall motif to despise the DMK regime.
The DMK and the Congress were partners in mutual hate. The Congress youth wing was angry that the DMK has tainted the entire alliance as corrupt thanks to spectrum. The DMK was angry that the Congress, which till yesterday was a pliant ally, was now an arm- twisting bully. It was a déjà vu of 1980 when a similar alliance between the DMK and the Congress to fight M.G. Ramachandran fell flat as neither the DMK cadres nor the Congress voters were comfortable about the alliance.
The Congress made the huge mistake of not distancing itself from the DMK around the time of former telecom minister A. Raja's arrest. It spurned J. Jayalalithaa's offer of unconditional support at that time. Vijaykanth, who led the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, was then yet to announce his alliance with Ms Jayalalithaa. He was open to forming a third front with the Congress and was waiting for signals from Sonia Gandhi. Having missed the opportunity, the Congress is now the biggest loser in Tamil Nadu.
Puducherry has always been an oasis for the Congress even when it lost Tamil Nadu in 1967. This time it has lost Puducherry too. The Congress seems to have the knack of being on the opposite side of people's anti-corruption mood everywhere. N. Rangasamy, erstwhile chief minister in Puducherry, was popular with people for both his simplicity and overall honesty. The Congress threw him out of the party and has now lost power to the very same man.
Mr Rangasamy is not the only one whom the Congress nurtured, developed and then dumped. The neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is a case in point. Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late former chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy, has beaten the Congress to pulp. Ironically, Mr Reddy has no individual reputation. It is all borrowed glory of his father. YSR was the Congress's sheet anchor in Andhra Pradesh and his popularity as chief minister was only during the Congress regime. By not striking a deal with his son and widow, the Congress dug the grave for itself in the Andhra Pradesh byelections. The overriding issue was Cuddapah pride.
In Kerala, the Congress should have been back in power comfortably going by the Malayalis' penchant for shuffling the government every term. But Congress leader Rahul Gandhi challenged the Kerala voters on whether they wanted 90-year-old Achuthanandan as chief minister. Mr Gandhi forgot that his own ally in Kerala, K.R. Gowri Ammal, contesting the elections was already 90. Kerala's electorate, comprising mostly middle-age and old-age groups, did not like Mr Gandhi's comments at all. Instead of a comfortable win, the Congress has ended up with a narrow victory.
Mr Gandhi's youth brigade lost everywhere. This was mainly because he has not understood the dynamics of party politics. He had been trying to run a parallel party within the party based on different norms. Power remained with the old guard, while the young blood refused to serve as their minions. The disconnect was so severe that in Tamil Nadu the Youth Congress demonstrated against its own party president and complained against him to the Election Commission.
The major gain in this election from a social perspective is the strengthening of democracy and the weakening of partisan casteist groups. The Paattali Makkal Katchi, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the Kongu party all with apparent caste followings could not deliver at all in Tamil Nadu. When a massive issue like corruption that affects all people irrespective of caste became the dominant discourse, the caste equations weakened.
The above 80 per cent turnout has strengthened democracy and the credit entirely goes to the EC that introduced voter slips for quick, easy and hassle-free voting and its no-holds-barred action against the use of money power that created hope in the minds of people that the elections would be fair.
Both the DMK and the Congress are at crossroads now. Sonia Gandhi's greeting to Ms Jayalalithaa may signal shift in alliances, but the Congress can gain in Tamil Nadu only by working for a third alternative in the long run. The DMK will have to clear its cobwebs of nepotism and go back to its founding days when its inner party democracy was vibrant.
And the message from the people is clear for Ms Jayalalithaa too. We won't tolerate abuse of power and massive corruption even if you cheat us with freebies.

Gnani Sankaran is a Tamil writer, theatreperson and filmmaker






Puducherry, a tiny former French colony now a Union Territory, is better known for its pleasant seafront and the famous Aurobindo Ashram than for its politics. With a population of just 1.2 million and one elected member of Parliament, it does not count for much in national politics, which is perhaps why it did not receive much attentionfrom national television channels on May 13 when results of this year's first major state and Union Territory elections were announced. Yet, Puducherry too went to the polls and what happened there holds a lesson for the rest of the country.

The stars of the polls might have been West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu's J. Jayalalithaa and Assam's Tarun Gogoi, but in Puducherry the hero was former chief minister and Congress rebel, N. Rangasamy, whose recently floated party, the All-India N.R. Congress (AINRC), in alliance with the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), routed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress alliance by winning 20 (15 AINRC and five AIADMK) of the union territory's 30 Assembly seats. This ended 12 years of Congress rule in the coastal enclaves that constitute this union territory.

Mr Rangasamy, an unpretentious, simple living politician and avowed disciple of the late Tamil stalwart Kumaraswami Kamaraj, is a popular figure who had ruled the Union Territory from 2001 to 2008, leading the Congress to two successive electoral wins. Even as chief minister, he had remained accessible and was often seen riding his motorcycle in his constituency to meet colleagues and supporters. In August 2008, he was asked to resign by the party high command, ostensibly due to complaints from rivals, who accused him of paying far too much attention to his own constituency. He was replaced with the more patrician V. Vaithilingam, who had served as chief minister during 1991-96.

The relegation of a popular leader to the sidelines is not a new page in Congress culture; over the years this style of functioning has emaciated the party's local leadership throughout the country; and state level leaders, reduced to utter subservience, have often revolted or left the party. This was the case with Mr Rangasamy, who decided to float his own party on February 7, 2011, and went on to decimate his former party three months later.

Like it or not, the political pendulum in this country has been swinging away from the Centre to the states. This has led to the era of coalition politics, underscoring the critical importance of state level leaders. No political party today can hope to make its presence felt at the state level without a robust leadership and popular leaders.
One of the reasons why the Congress has not been able to make much of an impression in Tamil Nadu, for instance, is because it does not have a mass leader in that state. Its local leaders are either irrelevant or discredited. The main Tamil politicians, like Ms Jayalalithaa, Mr M. Karunanidhi and now Mr Vijayakanth, tower above the rest. The Congress has not been able to attract any person of great stature in Tamil Nadu because of its culture. Most mass leaders, who tend to be hugely egotistical for a reason, cannot imagine functioning under the dictates of some high command in New Delhi and therefore avoid joining the Congress.
This elections' giant killer, Ms Banerjee, leader of the Trinamul Congress, was a Congress party member not so long ago. She had made her mark as a Congress leader in the 1984 general elections by defeating the Communist heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee. Since then, barring the 1989 polls, she has won every single Lok Sabha elections she has contested. That she was an emerging leader of exceptional ability was acknowledged as early as 1991, when she got her first portfolio as a minister of state in the union government. Yet, by December 1997 she had thrown in the towel and formed her own party, voicing disillusionment with the Congress leadership, which seemed reluctant to fight the Left in Bengal.
In all these years nobody in the Congress considered bringing her back or crowning her queen of the Bengal Congress. Today, with a massive mandate (183 out of 294 seats), she is the state's most powerful leader. On victory day, she made it a point to tell the media that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had called her from Kabul to congratulate her and Soniaji too had called. She has pulled the Bengal Congress along to a victory of sorts as well, helping it secure more seats than the Communist Party of India(Marxist). But the Congress can say goodbye to a comeback in West Bengal as long as she is around.
In Assam, the Congress leadership had to acknowledge that its astonishing victory was due to the good and clean governance provided by chief minister Tarun Gogoi. The party had succeeded beyond expectation because it had allowed an effective state leader to function without hindrance and had backed him with developmental funds from the Centre.
In Kerala, it could be argued that the Congress was prevented from getting a convincing victory because of an effective state leader in the form of V. Achuthanandan.
One of the reasons why the Congress has been forced to accept coalition politics is its failure to nurture state-level leaders or countenance politicians of independent status. This has been the Congress' problem since the days of Indira Gandhi. Earlier, the Congress was an umbrella organisation that welcomed all opinion into its fold and gave weightage to local leaders. The demise of that culture has come to haunt the Congress today.

Indranil Banerjie is an independent security and political risk consultant








The European Union delegation, while on a visit to Kashmir Valley, cancelled a scheduled meeting with the Hurriyat (G) leader Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani and the Bar Association. They gave no reason the for last minute change of mind. Obviously, what weighed with them was Geelani's call to Kashmiris for offering prayer in absentia for Osama. In doing so, Geelani identified himself, his organization and those who responded to his call, with world's top most terrorist and his terrorist organization. This is the gravest wound inflicted by Geelani on the "freedom movement" in Kashmir. He left the western world in no doubt that this was not a "freedom movement" but a terrorist movement, which, despite taking a heavy toll of life in Kashmir, had not as yet quenched the thirst for more innocent lives of his compatriots. Only weeks ago, Geelani had visited the camps of the minority community of Pandits in the valley and assured them of guarantee to safety of life. How should one interpret this dichotomy of the separatist leader? Osama was responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent lives as it was his organization whose activists carried out attacks in different parts of the world beginning with 9/11 that left thousands dead. He lionized himself for owning the responsibility. Does Islam allow shedding of innocent blood? Does not the holy book enjoin upon Muslims that everybody has his religion? What then is the status of Osma in the eyes of true Muslims? Those who responded to Geelani's call for the namaze gaibana of Osma should answer these questions.
Describing the holding of Osama's funeral prayer at Srinagar as un-Islamic, Chairman Anjuman Minhaje Rasool Maulana Sayyid Athar Dehlavi said that Laden was never identified with Islam. "Terror has no religion and caste and so was Osama bin Laden, who was never identified with Islam People in Kashmir now want peace and to live in harmony. Separatists should accept that their ideologies are no longer being acknowledged and followed," the cleric said. Notwithstanding this, if Geelani had to offer condolence on the death of Osama, he should have primarily held Pakistan responsible for it. It was a deal between Pakistan and the Americans that led to the elimination of Osama. Over the years since Pakistan joined the US in the "war on terror" the US has conducted numerous covert operations - apart from unleashing the missiles of unmanned Predator drones on militant targets - deep inside Pakistan. For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported on July 27, 2008, "On occasions, US Special Forces teams have been sent into Pakistan. In 2006, one of the nation's most elite units, Seal Team 6, raided a suspected al-Qaeda compound at Damadola in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Under this arrangement, the US would conduct raids against high-value targets and Pakistan would provide the necessary support, but Pakistan, for political reasons so that nobody would question that its sovereignty had been compromised, would claim responsibility for the raids. The US sent four warning letters to the Pakistan army through diplomatic channels in which it expressed its reservations on Pakistan's cooperation in finding high-value sanctuaries. Pakistan responded by asking for better economic deals and a greater role in the Afghan end game.
The demands on both sides were such that international players were called in to mediate. These included top Saudi authorities and Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shi'ite Ismaili community. They played a pivotal role in fostering a new strategic agreement of which the Abbottabad operation was a part. That is, Pakistan was on board but was kept in the dark over the target on the explicit understanding that it would take ownership.
The Saudis included ex-ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who had been sidelined for some years through illness and palace intrigue. He had helped resolve the Davis case and set the parameters for joint surgical strikes inside Pakistan against defiant al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders to pave the way for an end game in Afghanistan.
In the first week of April, the White House released a terror report charging Pakistan with being hand-in-glove with militants. Soon after, the ISI chief Lt. Gen. Pasha went to the US for a very short visit. Security sources confirmed that the new security arrangement was high on the agenda. Pasha, instead of returning directly to Pakistan, stopped over in Paris where he met the Aga Khan, and then proceeded to Turkey for talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was in the country on an official visit, to apprise him of the new agreement. In the last week of April, the US's top man in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, met with Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and informed him of the US Navy Seals operation to catch a high-value target. The deal was done.
In the light of this background, of which Geelani may not be in know, it is clear that Pakistan had come to the conclusion that the time had come for her to abandon Osama and thus get rid of the terrorist menace which he and his organization were working at. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and is rightly proud of her Islamic culture. If it found safety and security of the Islamic Republic in contriving the liquidation of the source of terror entrenched in its soil, then it has served the larger interests of the Muslims of the world. How come that Geelani considers himself and his organization not part of world Muslim community? It is time that his followers give up blind following and take resort to logic and history in assessing the role of the terrorists in destabilizing Pakistan and destroying peace in the sub-continent. Geelani should also understand the subtle point that Kashmiris, by and large, did not become emotional on the killing of Osama. The real reason for that is that Osama, among others, was engaged in waging a proxy war against the Saudi monarchy, something for which the Sunni Wahhabi Muslim world and much less the Kashmiri Muslims are not prepared to be comfortable with.







Triple trust deficit that exists between India and Pakistan on the one side and stand off between Kashmir and Delhi on the other, besides regional tensions that prevails in Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh is very easy to describe. There are glaring symptoms which have on and off stimulated triple trust deficit since the emergence of India and Pakistan as separate nations and accession of J&K in Indian Union. One needs no effort to explain or understand this triple stand off in three quarters because the layman in J&K has been affected the most and hence the worst sufferer than any one else in India.
Non acceptance of two nation theory by Indian National Congress created fear in the minds of Muslim League and subsequent declarations by RSS strengthened the fear. Accession of J&K to India and valley slipping out of its hands could not be digested by Pakistan. Only option left out was grabbing it militarily. India lost hope of its peaceful co- existence with Pakistan after being militarily attacked immediately after independence and thrice subsequently. Pak diplomatic offensives continued in all the international forums during the interim lull. Influx of terrorism and launching Proxy War to destablise India further strengthen the belief that trust between two neighbors, if ever builds up in the post Osama bin Laden era, will be illusory, if not followed by CBMs. Let killing of Osama be watershed in future relations and 26 / 11 be a beginning of joint action against terror. By taking India on board in its fight against terror, Pakistan can reassure world on its sincerity to eliminate this menace. Will Prime Minster Manmohan Singh pick up phone and respond to Prime Minister Gilani's statement favoring 'positive and constructive' engagement with India assuring him that India does not harbor ill will against Pakistan. Under world pressure, he may get assurance for lasting peace and joint action against terror menace.
US surprise raid at Abbottabad and simultaneous readiness to attack Pakistan, had the army reacted to this attack, (if not okayed by army / ISI or presumed Indian raid), is a great insult to nation's self respect. Presently Pakistan is under tremendous internal and external pressures. Myth of Pak most powerful and professional institution, the Army; often considered as key to national security, stability and cohesion stands crippled. Its failure to pick up what was happening in Osama's abode for 42 minutes has created lot of tension in its rank and file besides confusion in the chain of command. The stark reality is that Pak army is not at all elite but an impotent and a mercenary force. ISI too stands discredited (jo bik gae, khaarid dar nahin ho sakte). Signals coming from Rawalpindi suggest a sorry state of affairs with no one in command / accountable. It also puts the future of the nation at stakes. Indian fears of myth, if any, stand annulled.
A drowning man catches at a straw. Best hopes and fears in such situations are the neighbors. The initiative is with India. Therefore India can help the ungrateful nation to come out of turmoil which she has been doing before, as in Simla Accord. Luckily India nurtures friendly ties; not to vitiate the trust deficit with beleaguered neighbor is a wise move. To start with Delhi can unilaterally take bold diplomatic initiatives when our fears are annulled. Pakistan will have to dismantle terror infrastructure, check infiltration, bring perpetrators of 26 / 11 to justice under international pressure, rein in terrorist outfits so that NATO can detach from Afghanistan which favors Indian security and its role in the region. No escape route is left for Pakistan any more. India can demilitarize Siachen, reduce security forces in J&K, open more trade and transit routes and share actionable intelligence. Wisdom lies in striking the iron when hot. India is strong, wise and committed to improve trust and give up coercive intentions.
Kashmiri leaders mislead the world and blackmail Delhi when they call Kashmir as an unsettled issue. They accept the accession but not the merger; some don't do that even. Kashmiri leaders of the valley and periphery, some of them separatists, represent the Kashmiri speaking pocket of the state. They make tall claims that they represent entire J&K which is an absolute fallacy. By assuring Azadi they put Kashmir on war path and create distrust between valley and Delhi. They are the key stumbling blocks in cultivating trust with Pakistan. Delhi understands the game plan and is tactfully keeping control over the intermittent stand off with blow hot blow cold diatribes. Delhi knows that being the capital town, thickly populated, attractive tourist spot (more attractive to Delhi and Jammu politicians), commercial hub and so on; political activity in the valley is usually and consequently much more than any other part of the state which worries none. Jammu and Ladakh are two geographically much bigger entities of the state and culturally entirely different. For Jammu and Ladakh, Kashmir is a closed chapter after accession and for rest of India / world, the issue was settled once and for all by the ruler who was the sole legal, constitutional and empirical authority. He did it with full backing of Sheikh Abdullah heading the majority community. No law on the land or the British empire can question his authority and wisdom to have decided the Kashmir issue. Frequent demands of greater autonomy / self rule / joint sovereignty, double currency, Azadi, confusing statements about accession are retrograde and secessionist. Being political statement / demands they are wisely ignored, e g AFSPA stays. When political and financial discrimination is forced on Jammu and Ladakh, more heat is generated which Delhi douses in its own way which dampens discrimination. Jammu and Ladakh need separate administrative and economic regional councils to allay disparities.
If Sheik sahib's grand son considers inherited legacy as a problem, it means trust deficit. Without following basic norms of democracy which his grandfather strived, if he wants to be Prime Minister of Muslim majority state; the non Muslims minorities of J&K have no justification to be part of autonomous Muslim majority state surviving at the mercy of belligerent neighbor. How can Hindus, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christians co exist with Muslims when there is failure of trust between India and Kashmir and exactly the same within state. Doesn't India get betrayed over and over again; more so now when the child of India speaks the language of enemies of India. Who is to be blamed for the mess is well known and is being dealt with wisely. Who betrayed whom and who can betray in future is also known. Since bribed or intimidated recipes are not working, (AFSPA & Disturbed Area Act stay), it is more frustrating for effected leaders. No political or regressive ideology of the valley has worked when forced on Delhi or other two regions. It was always contested in Jammu. Post Osama era is best time to encourage settlement of Hindus, Pandits and Sikhs in Kashmir to dampen fundamentalism and neutralise blackmail. The symptoms of regional and federal mistrust will exist but their consequences will be diminutive. Restoration of trust depends on all the three warring parties equitably and is increasingly becoming achievable. Though it may be ridden with difficulties; the bitter pill is worth its swallow.
( The author is a columnist, political analyst and social activist)







The Planning Commission has suggested that government schools, hospitals and other social services should be given out to private contractors just as PWD gives out contracts for making roads. Thinking is in the right direction. It is recognized that provision of these services through government employees is beyond redemption. People would be able to approach the government officials against deficient provision of these services by private contractors. Three-way friction between people, contractors and government regulators will provide better accountability than two-way friction between people and government providers. Presently government officials are both providers- and regulators of government employees. Say, a government teacher is absent from school. Complaint has to be lodged with the same District Education Officer with whose knowledge and connivance the teacher is absent. Contractor system will help improve delivery of these services just as privatization of distribution of power supply in Kolkata and Delhi has led to much improvement.
Yet, the fundamental problem of inefficient provision of government services is not solved. The Planning Commission had set up a Sub-Group on Public Private Partnership in Social Sector. Report of the Group says that the fundamental problem of delivery is that government provision is monopolistic in character. The bureaucracy takes liberty to indulge in lethargy, corruption and high handedness because people have no alternative but to put up with their misbehaviour. The Group report says that giving out to contractors should not be seen as privatization. The control will remain with the government and contractors will have to follow the rules and directions given by the government. Providing services through contractors should be seen as administrative reforms rather than dilution of role of the government.

Import of this observation is that the main problem is that of monopoly of government provision. The customer has to pay whatever a lone rickshaw puller on the street corner demands because the latter is in a monopolistic position. Similarly, people have to bear with the highhandedness of the government employees. This observation indicates that the solution will lie in dismantling government monopoly. Giving out provision of the services to contractors does not attain this end. Rather, government monopoly is replaced with contractor monopoly. Teachers appointed by the contractor may be just as inefficient, disinterested and corrupt as those appointed by the government.

The above quote further says that giving out services to contractors must not be seen as privatization but only as a measure towards administrative reforms. Implication is that commanding- and monopolistic position of the government will remain intact. Accordingly all problems associated with monopolistic provision will remain.
The Planning Commission says that competitive bidding in selection of the service provider will lead to improvement. I have doubts. My experience is that government provision is better than private provision in certain sectors. Insurance agents tell that government insurance companies will generally pay full claims even though they may take longer time in doing so. Private insurance companies will try to pay less by using one tactic or other. Consumers have often complained about excessive billing by private telecom companies. Such complaints are rare in state run MTNL and BSNL. Government teachers are generally much more qualified and competent. Private contractors may appoint less qualified teachers to cut their costs. Thus government- and contractors have both plusses and minuses. Government system is impersonal, qualified but slow and highhanded. Private providers are less competent and more money minded but more efficient. This of the two will be better; therefore, will depend upon the case to case situation.

The Planning Commission says that "the monopoly like situation of a public service is kept under check through the process of monitoring and evaluation. This can be further supplemented through putting in place 'independent regulatory systems' to protect the consumer's interests." True. But the same could be done with respect to the present government employees. They could also be kept under check by monitoring and evaluation. It may be as difficult to monitor the contractors. Contractors are able to get substandard materials accepted in government purchases by giving bribes as seen in the collapse of a foot bridge made for the Common Wealth Games. The same is likely to happen in contractor-led provision of health and education.
Replacing tyranny of the government by tyranny of the contractors is no solution. Indeed the two tyrannies could together sometimes empower the people just as dispute between two thieves exposes both. But that such will happen is not necessary.

There is a greater loss. Focusing on minor improvements though the contractor route distracts our attention from the basic problem and actually perpetuates the same. A young boy is interested in sports. He is sent to a tutor in mathematics. His math's scores improve. But he is distracted from pursuing his primary destiny in sports. Sachin Tendulkar and Morari Bapu would perhaps not have attained their present glory had their parents pushed for minor improvements in their education. Similarly, in taking the contractor route, we are distracting from breaking the basic fallacy that social services need to be provided by the government. Rabindranath Tagore wrote: "Today the thoughts of the Bengali people have been separated from the villages. Today the responsibility of providing water is that of the government. The burden of health provision is upon the government. For learning also one has to knock at the door of the government. The tree that flowered itself today begs the sky for a rain of flowers with its naked branches... Knowledge was propagated without the assistance of the kingship. The king definitely honoured the learned. But the learned were not dependent upon him. If the king suspended all assistance, even then knowledge would continue to be propagated. The village tank did not dry up if the king became insolent." This is the basic solution that we need to pursue. Leave social services to private- and for charity providers.

World Bank data tells us that government expenditure on health in India accounted for only 17 percent of the total expenditure on health. Situation in education is similar. The welfare mafia of government teachers and doctors has captured this government money. Now the Planning Commission wants to create another mafia of contractors to replace the mafia of government teachers. The need is to wholly dismantle the government services except for the very backward areas where private providers have not reached yet. A fundamental principle of democracy is that the people know best. The government spending on social services too should be left to the people. The amount should be given out in form of cash vouchers to the people. They should be empowered to select providers. Focus must be upon improving the quality of private provision by regulation. Regulation of private schools is fundamentally different that regulation of Government contractors because no Government funding is involved. Let us not waste another decade experimenting with contractors and then finding that we have only fallen from the frying pan into the fire.








The vote has yet again triumphed Indian democracy and reposed peoples' trust in the election system of the country, though requiring some sweeping changes. Those who have grown pessimistic or cryptic about the utility of elections in so far as rewarding the performers, even if prospective ,and punishing those who do not deliver and take people for granted , to have their votes on considerations of caste, region, language or as a result of inducements and allurements whether as freebies , gifts, bribery or even false promises, need to cast off their inhibitions and strengthen the democratic processes to bring turnarounds and requisite changes wherever needed .The voters of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in particular, have shown this , besides in the states of Kerala and Assam.

Following landslide victory in West Bengal Assembly polls, the instantaneous comment came from Mamata Banerjee, "it is the victory of the people and the victory of Democracy". She further said," it is Samporno joy or the complete victory. She successfully invoked the emotive feelings of the Bengal electorate on " Maa, Matti and Manush "and trounced the left shaking their 34 years old bastion. By any account, it is not an ordinary change but the culmination of "the humble Hawai chappel revolution" epitomizing the modest simple living of Miss Bannerjee and her unimpeachable political record. A suppressed dissent of the people under the rule of the Left Front, which many thought to be invincible, got its catharsis, right in the form of giving a decisive mandate in favour of the Trinmool Congress . Mamata has gone past a double century bagging 216 seats while conceding a mere 70 to the ruling Left. It is emulating for many especially the young, to learn from her rising from the grass root level with no political patron to support her. She did "Nukkad "or street politics, not only cashing in the anger of the people as a result of Singur and Nandigram incidents but giving the people the feeling that she meant the betterment of all . The fact remains that the Left all these years, had shown some visible performance in the basics of Sadak, Bijli and Pani but people did want to tread beyond and slammed the ideology and leadership of the ruling Left front by their lackadaisical policies to better their quality of life and above all the dignity in the backdrop of the likes of Nandigram incidents. Former Lok Sabha speaker Som Nath Chatterjee and the expelled Marxisist leader, has said that the CPM should start introspecting from top to down on why the left government was decimated in West Bengal .

Mamata , however, has to face elusive humps in her way in the form of agitational politics by the Left parties , also as has been feared by no less than the Chief Election Commissioner , S.Y.Querishi who expects the " possibility of the left sponsored violence in West Bengal in response to TMC sweep and asked for increased security for the next ten days." Interestingly, he asks all the political parties to introspect about inducting money in political process. Qureishi was all concerned about the money factor in the electoral and political process that a whopping amount of Rs. 70 crores had been seized from four states during April- May elections out of which Rs. 60 crores alone were seized from Tamil Nadu.

The discretion and the decision of the electorate of Tamil Nadu deserve all kudos to have out rightly rejected the vote for note political programme of the DMK. Bribing the voters has cost the DMK-Congress alliance dearly. It may be recalled that numerous voters had mustered courage by reporting how they were induced and enticed for selling their votes. Freebies like laptops, sheep, coloured TVs were freely distributed among the voters at a cost of hundreds of crores of rupees, the source of which could be suspected to the malaise of black money or as a covert drawls from the state coffers. While freebies were distributed before the elections, other inducements were offered at the time of elections. The height of nepotism in Tamil Nadu had completely made it as a family affair and even the feud within the family to capture more share in rule, had got increasing exposures resulting in a silent anti DMK wave which swept the DMK Congress alliance It is worth noting that the timing of CBI inquiry in the extension of the tentacles of the 2G Spectrum loot was fixed to be initiated only after the complete polling had taken place in Tamil Nadu. Had the exposure of the Kanimozhi case been prior to or on the polling dates, the extent of trouncing of the DMK would have been much severe. People saw in DMK , besides local misrule , non performance and blatant nepotism , the endorsement of and the pecuniary benefit from A. Raja's 2G Spectrum scam who was so much in high airs that after meeting the PM shortly before demitting office, he said though he is the Prime Minister, yet his leader was sitting in Tamil Nadu. Like this, he made a dilution of the importance of the Chairman and the leader of the cabinet which the Prime Minister is. His leader Karunanidhi had plans of getting his son Stalin to succeed him but he must thank his stars to the extent of a succession struggle within the family getting averted . His other son Aligiri , the Union Chemicals Minister too is reported to have expressed his ambitions to head the state of the Tamil Nadu as its Chief Minister. AIADMK Chief Jayalalithaa has swept the polls, perhaps, much beyond her expectations. Her ally, the DMDK led by the cine star Vijyakanthi too has fared well. The AIADMK Chief has said that now Mr. Karinanidhi must open his eyes and realize his follies. "He has paid", she said," for disregarding the will of the people."

In Assam, Taron Gogoi of Congress has made it a hat trick and the people have rejected the AGP for not living upto the promises made on issues like foreigners illegal entry and demographic imbalances. It is imperative that Gogoi has to deliver to honour the peoples' verdict. Like wise in Kerala, Congress led UDF managed to wrest power from the ruling CPI (M) and in this state also like Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal the people have mandated a change and a change for better . From the results it can be deduced that the mood of the Indian electorate is undergoing a sea change and this should send the vanquished into introspection and the victorious to pledge to deliver and perform.










IN the normal course, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa would have preened and celebrated on Friday as the BJP wrested the three assembly seats from the Congress-JD(S) combine in the byelections, but a Supreme Court ruling came on the same day to ruin the party nice and proper. The apex court quashed the Assembly Speaker's decision to disqualify 16 MLAs ahead of the no-confidence motion last year which had ensured survival of his government. The stern judgement criticising the Speaker's decision for not meeting the twin tests of natural justice and fair play makes the position of the Chief Minister untenable. With the disqualification of the MLAs set aside, the state government has now been reduced to a minority.


The judgement says categorically that "extraneous considerations are writ large on the face of the order of the Speaker and the same has to be set aside. The Speaker, in our view, proceeded in the matter as if he was required to meet the deadline set by the Governor, irrespective of whether, in the process, he was ignoring the constitutional norms set out in the Tenth Schedule and the Disqualification Rules, 1986, and in contravention of the basic principles that go hand in hand with the concept of a fair hearing".


The brazen disqualification of MLAs just because they had dissented against the Chief Minister had come in for stinging criticism from all quarters, but the BJP did not act against the regional satrap, perhaps in order to not let go of its toehold in the South. The indefensible inaction made its anti-corruption campaign against the UPA government look like a charade. The Karanataka High Court order upholding the disqualification came as a shot in the arm for Mr Yeddyurappa. But the Supreme Court reversal of that judgement has taken away even that pretext. He will be hanging on to the post only at the cost of moral and ethical propriety.









Behaving in her own style reflecting arrogance, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has provided an excellent opportunity to opposition parties — the Congress, the Samajwadi Party of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Mr Ajit Singh — to expose the state government's weaknesses. The state government could have found a way to handle in a different manner the farmers' agitation launched against its controversial land acquisition policy. The use of excessive force leading to the death of three persons, including two policemen, showed that the UP government had little idea that this could lead to an embarrassing situation for it, adversely affecting its popularity among the public. The recent arrest and subsequent release of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi at Bhatta Parsaul village in the Greater Noida area highlighted the on-going drive for winning the 2012 UP Assembly elections.


Though the Congress has been a minor political player in UP for the past few years, it has been making all-out efforts to improve its position under the leadership of Mr Rahul Gandhi. The Congress did make considerable gains in the 2007 assembly polls, though its strength was in no way comparable to that of the BSP and the SP. The Congress has been confident of regaining the dominant position it has lost because of the growing unpopularity of the two caste-based parties — the BSP and the SP — and the BJP. For some time the Congress has been focusing on the Dalit-dominated and drought-hit Bundelkhand region to exploit the area's neglect by the state government.


This, however, does not mean that the ruling BSP has little chance of retaining power after the coming polls. The party is known for its committed supporters. It may suffer reverses to some extent because of its failure to come up to the people's expectations in maintaining law and order and speeding up the development process in UP. But its main challenger, the SP, has no better image among the public. The BJP, too, has failed to get its image changed from being a single (Ayodhya) issue party. This situation suits the Congress under the youthful leadership of Mr Gandhi.











Disregarding the public sentiment against corruption, the Congress leadership has brought back tainted veterans to top positions while reorganising the party's Punjab unit. An opportunity to purge the party of corrupt leaders has been wasted. Since corruption is set to be a major issue in the coming assembly elections in Punjab, the party's state leaders facing inconvenient cases in courts will be hard put to speak against the rot in the state administration, let alone stem it if voted to power. It is not difficult to distinguish between cases arising out of political vendetta and those due to corruption or criminal activity. The party could face embarrassment if its senior leaders get convicted while holding positions of power.


The leadership has also failed to carry forward General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's drive to induct young blood in the party. The youngsters given responsible positions are mostly relatives of senior leaders. They include a son of Capt Amarinder Singh, a son-in-law of Mrs Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, a brother of MP Pratap Singh Bajwa and a brother of Jagmeet Brar. The younger lot in the party with no relatives or godfathers at higher levels has a reason to be disappointed. The distribution of the party ticket too is expected to be on the same pattern. Since the old guard refuses to retire and nepotism is rampant, there is little hope for bright and honest young aspirants to enter or stay in politics.


The Congress leadership seems to regard winning potential, and not merit and personal integrity, of a candidate as the deciding factor in the distribution of the party post or ticket. Since other parties also do the same, this has led to certain unhealthy trends in politics. Candidates' caste matters a lot in their success in the political career. Jat Sikhs, urban Hindus and Dalits get representation in seats of power depending on the strength of their community. Their spending ability decides their winning power. This state of affairs needs to change. Maybe, the state funding of elections can help. A systemic cleanup cannot happen without electoral reforms and a change in the political mindset.









THE US and Pakistan have since 2001 been allies in conflict, but after Osama bin Laden's killing their tense relationship has become so strained that the question is whether and how they can continue to collaborate against extremists in the Af-Pak area.


With US officials openly saying that the mistrust of Pakistan led them to keep Islamabad in the dark about

American plans to kill Bin Laden, who was enjoying a safe haven in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, and with Islamabad saying it wants American troops in Pakistan to be reduced to a minimum, their relationship seems to be hardening. A possible trip by President Barack Obama later this year might be called off. And many in Washington are now debating the desirability of continuing to give largesse to Pakistan.


While announcing that Bin Laden had been killed by American security forces, President Obama wisely refrained from humiliating Pakistan in public; instead, he has affirmed that "our counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden". Perhaps, he hoped that an emboldened US would now find it easier to persuade the embarrassed Pakistani establishment to hunt down the Afghan Taliban who have enjoyed safe havens and are training on Pakistani turf over the last decade, enabling extremists to frustrate the success of America's Afghan campaign.


Subsequently, however, Mr Obama's statement of May 9 — "some people inside of government" were providing a support structure to Bin Laden --- is diplomatic fluff for Washington's belief that Bin Laden could only have survived in secure luxury in Abbottabad with knowledge and collusion of Islamabad.

Even before Bin Laden's death, America's mistrust of the Pakistan Army was evident when it deployed a number of CIA operatives, Special Operations forces and contractors deep inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. These deployments triggered the showdown over Raymond Davis but, most importantly, helped open the trail to Bin Laden. On the other side, Pakistan's anger at the US was evident from its advice to Afghanistan to end its dependence on Washington and turn to China, Pakistan's all-weather friend.


Pakistan's military reacted to the news of Bin Laden's killing by cutting off communication with US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for two days. Washington couldn't care less: it has since asserted that it reserves the right to act again against top terror suspects inside Pakistan.


The US believes that Al-Qaida remains to be dismantled and defeated in Pakistan. So, it is likely to push Pakistan to stop looking both ways on extremism. One reason is that the US claims to have evidence that more Al-Qaida leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the brains behind 9/11, are hiding in Pakistan.


The other extremists include Afghan Taliban leader Mullar Omar, believed to be enjoying a safe haven with his cohorts in the Baluch city of Quetta and the Afghan Taliban commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, who are based in North Waziristan. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the ISI operatives are "supporting, funding and training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners" and that the ISI has a "longstanding relationship" with them. There are also extremists from other groups, including Pakistani militants, having ties with Al-Qaida. Pakistan's military is aware of America's insistence that their country cannot have ties with these groups. But while leading military operations against extremists in some parts of Pakistan, the army has expressed its inability to tackle North Waziristan.


Pakistan has, understandably, warned against further raids inside its territory. American intrusion into its sovereignty was already a sticking point in US-Pakistani relations as Pakistan resented American drone attacks which have killed civilians. Now with popular Pakistani protests against the US killing of Bin Laden, the new American threat will not endear the US to the Pakistanis.


American-Pakistani differences also prevail on Afghanistan's future and on India. Essentially, Pakistan's interest in the political future of Afghanistan stems from its wish to have a client regime in Kabul which would keep Indian influence out of the country. That is not Washington's aim. At the very least, Washington will only negotiate with the Afghan Taliban from a militarily vantage point; at best, it wants to defeat them.


Even more important, perhaps, is the discomfiture of the Afghans with the idea of making deals with the Taliban. That is evident from Mr Karzai's hailing of Bin Laden's death, and his call to the Taliban to learn a lesson from the event. And recently Afghan officials, including former Intelligence Chief Amanullah Saleh and Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main, defeated, electoral challenger in the presidential elections of 2009, addressed large crowds, saying that they did not want peace talks with the Pakistani-steered Taliban. Their opposition to Pakistani-brokered talks with the Taliban cannot be ignored by the West, especially Washington, whatever some advocates of NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan and parleys with extremists might think.


More generally, Kabul and Islamabad have their own differences over India. Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah welcome India's interest in a stable Afghanistan, Indian reconstruction aid and cultural influence.


As for India and Pakistan, the US does not expect their impasse to be broken soon. But it has never accepted that as an excuse for Islamabad's inaction against extremists on Pakistani soil. And the new tensions between the US and Pakistan will not encourage Washington to ditch India with a view to pleasing Pakistan.


There have been calls in Washington to slash aid to Pakistan. That would not suit Islamabad, which has received more than $12.5 billion over the last decade in return for fighting extremism. Most of that aid has been used to help militants, to buy arms to be used against India, or to line the pockets of Pakistan's military. Whenever the US demanded accountability from Islamabad and talked tough over the use – or misuse – of aid, Pakistan threatened to cut off supply lines to Afghanistan. The US backed down and continued to send more weapons and aid. And so the cycle continued.


The death of Bin Laden presents an opportunity to the US to demand accountability from Islamabad for playing this dangerous double game.


But with most NATO supplies passing through Pakistan, Washington's hope is that Pakistan will come on board against the Afghan Taliban. That is reasonable, but not enough. The US is already reviewing its dependence on Pakistan.


Should the US break with Pakistan's military establishment as the only way to bring Islamabad's duplicity out in the open and force the Pakistani military and intelligence services to decide which side they are really on? This question is being hotly debated in Washington. For the US can no longer delude itself that Pakistan is a partner against terrorism. Post-Osama, Islamabad is looking to many Americans as accomplices to those who wish to cause harm to the US.


Both the US and Pakistan will try to keep their relationship on an even keel. Whether those efforts will succeed or fail remains to be seen, but some tough bargaining can be expected in the months ahead.

The writer is Visiting Professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delhi









OUR training hall could accommodate 50 participants. But we had visiting officer trainees who wanted to sit in on a lecture by a former Chief Information Commissioner. All was fine, with the capacity audience of 65, until the speaker took the mike. Then, the electricity went off and in the pitch darkness of the hall, without the hum of airconditioning, we heard the mewing of cats. While we waited for the electricity to be restored, an angry cat descended from the false ceiling and prowled ferociously. "Can I have a candle," said our unflustered speaker, "so that everyone can see my face, and then I can get on".


After the candle-lit lecture on the RTI Act got under way we decided to tackle the threat to the health and safety of the participants. From BSNL's helpline at 197 we got the Municipal Commissioner's (MC's) number. The MC is guarded, like all civil servants, by a powerful PA. He informed us that the MC had been posted out. "What about his successor," I asked. "Oh, the panel is being considered – it will take time, madam," advised the PA. So I told him about our immediate problem with the cat and its litter and he very kindly put me onto the health department of the MC.


The health officer was in a meeting, but assured us that he would depute someone. Soon there was a smart bureaucratic person in our building, who informed us that while the Punjab Municipal Corporation Act, 1976, as applicable to Chandigarh, specifically mentioned dogs, cats fell in a grey area. "It depends on whether this is a pet cat or a wild cat? If it's a pet it is the responsibility of the owner. If it's a wild cat, then it's the responsibility of the forest and wildlife department".


So I was on Graham Bell's invention to the forest department. "I'm sorry," said the forest official, "our jurisdiction is limited to wild animals that stray into the city and the chances of a wild cat straying so deep into the city are remote". But how does one tell a wild cat from a domesticated cat, I queried. "Oh, why don't you call someone from Chhatbir Zoo," advised our forester. Unfortunately, Chhatbir Zoo had no staff to spare. So they advised that we contact the municipal corporation.

We were back to where we'd started, on a path we had already traversed. Then someone suggested we contact the People for Animals (PFA). The PFA assured us of a visit from their animal catcher, but also apologised that unless the animals were sick, they couldn't take them into their hospital. But they agreed to drop the strays on the city outskirts.


The PFA man came and informed us dourly, that he could catch the kittens but not the cat. He also admonished us "heartless taxmen" severely for separating the kittens from their mother and told us, quite unequivocally, that the kittens would undoubtedly be killed by wild animals on the city outskirts. Suddenly, it wasn't about the health and safety of the participants, but about a mother and her young.


It was the day after Mother's Day and on a day when the rest of the world was celebrating motherhood we 'heartless taxmen' decided to forget about health and safety, and let the cat and its kittens be.










FOR many who quite rightly guessed that the Lokpal Bill drafted by the government would be a non-starter, the alternative merited automatic support. However, little was known about the contents of the two Bills except that the alternative being proposed by "India Against Corruption" had the prefix of being a "people's" Lokpal. The consequences are too important to leave the issue to the expertise of the drafting committee. The people must comprehend, and play their part in ensuring that there will be an Act that will empower them to fight corruption — not make them surrender their hopes to yet another anti-corruption organisation. How people-centric is the Jan Lokpal Bill?


While the Jan Lokpal Pill is going through rapid revisions — 12 so far — the basic framework and some principles have remained constant. Broadly, the Bill can be divided into four sections: the mandate and scope of the Lokpal; composition and selection of the Lokpal; powers of the Lokpal; and functioning of the Lokpal. The composition and selection of the Lokpal is substantively one of the least contentious sections – concerning largely with procedural matters and subjective preferences, rather than ideological or legal viewpoints. A discussion of the other three sections is necessary.


Jurisdiction over all public servants


The Jan Lokpal is being conceived of as an institution with far-reaching powers. It will exercise jurisdiction over all "public servants", including the entire executive, the legislature and the judiciary (Section 2.11), and will be tasked for the investigation and prosecution of all actions punishable under anti-corruption provisions in various laws. It is also mandated to act on allegation of misconduct by a government servant, grievances of citizens, complaints from whistleblowers, and complaints against its own staff (Section 8.1).


This ambitious agenda, suffers from many problems. An essential feature of democratic governance is the separation of powers to preclude the exercise of excessive authority by any one institution. The well-intentioned objective of administrative, financial and functional independence (Section 14.3D) raises fundamental questions about its own accountability. The "people" are confined to being complainants and applicants.


In addition the centralised structure of the Lokpal is ill-suited for sorting out governance deficit and the inclusion of citizens charters and grievance redress in its ambit is likely to swamp the Lokpal. Effective grievance redress needs to be built upon participative collective processes that empower citizens. Instead the proposed system of a two-step appellate process centralises power in the Lokpal, each escalation leaving the individual citizen at the mercy of an increasingly powerful and inaccessible authority.


Judiciary too under Lokpal?


The inclusion of the judiciary within the purview of the Lokpal also needs discussion. The Bill proposes only to investigate complaints relating to judges that would fall under the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, judicial accountability extends beyond quid pro quo corruption of individual judges – and issues of transparency, judicial appointments and judicial standards will be left unaddressed. Many eminent judges have suggested that the important issue of judicial accountability should be tackled simultaneously through a separate statute that will also protect the constitutionally mandated independence of the judiciary.


The Jan Lokpal has been vested with sweeping powers, which are susceptible to misuse. The Lokpal can suo-motu initiate investigation (Section 14.6), tap phones and intercept other communication (Section 13C), has powers of search and seizure (Section 9) and initiate prosecution (Section 8.2b) without sanction (Section 8.6 and Section 8.7). According to Supreme Court judgments, the government can tap phones only if there is "occurrence of any public emergency" or "interest of public safety" and the power to tap phones goes beyond the Lokpal's mandate to tackle corruption.


Other powers trespass the executive and judicial domain such as the power to order the cancellation of a licence, lease or contract (Section 8.2.d), blacklist firms (Section 8.2.e), order the removal of public servants (other than ministers, MPs and judges) on the completion of investigation (Section 18.8), mandate changes in the citizen charters (Section 21.5), investigate judicial orders if mala fide alleged (Section 17.2) and ensure compliance of its orders through the contempt of court powers (Section 13.4). The only oversight is the Constitutional default of judicial review. However, with the entire judiciary envisioned to be within the purview of the Lokpal, this may not be an effective enough safeguard.


The Lokpal or Lokayukta will respond to what are likely to be lakhs of complaints and applications through powerful local-level machinery of vigilance and investigation officers whose only accountability is to their superiors. It is difficult to imagine why these officers of the Lokpal will not be as susceptible to corruption as the public servants they would investigate. The janata at the grassroots faces the imminent danger of being saddled with an even more unaccountable centre of arbitrary power.


Public anger revives Lokpal


The Jan Lokpal will subsume the CVC (Section 24) and the anti-corruption investigative wing of the CBI (Section 25.3). It also has complete discretion to determine the number and categories of its officers (Section 23.2) at "special conditions or special pay" which "may be different and more than ordinary pay scales" as prescribed by Lokpal (Section 23.3 and 23.7).


This provision attempts to carve out a separate and special regime under the Lokpal, and it is unclear why standards and norms applicable for other government employees shouldn't apply to those of the Lokpal. Elsewhere the Bill mandates that all records and information held by the Lokpal shall be public, even during investigation (Section 18.9).


While the commitment to transparency is admirable, this provision may violate the fundamental right to individual privacy since it is inevitable that the Lokpal will be privy to some information about the accused that will either be irrelevant to the investigation or false (e.g., malicious testimonies).


The Lokpal has the power to levy fines and penalties all of which will be deposited in its "Lokpal fund", as will 10 per cent of public monies recovered for disposal as per its discretion (Section 5.5). This provision creates a perverse incentive for the Lokpal to levy fines and usurps parliamentary prerogative of oversight over public money.


The strong popular support for the Jan Lokpal Bill comes from a sense of anger and frustration with the spate of scams, particularly "grand corruption" where ordinary citizens have helplessly watched money being illegally accumulated by people who seem to be beyond the law. There is a need to create, as this Bill does, a body that is well selected, empowered and supported, to fight corruption at the very top.

Perhaps innovative provisions could have been included for the Lokpal to enlist the support of the many public spirited citizens who even the RTI Act has spawned. However, by setting an agenda that mandates the Jan Lokpal to respond to all matters of mis-governance that spans the length and depth of the arms of the state, there is the obvious danger of losing focus. More frightening is the prospect that the Lokpal would create a huge bureaucracy that could become another source of corruption that it might not be able to monitor or control.


The joint committee has begun by promising to consult people with an open mind. To realise the ideal of participatory democracy, the committee will have to encourage widespread debate and own responsibility to initiate diverse public consultations where each principle of the Bill is critically discussed before its inclusion. That process could perhaps promote a culture of putting people at the centre of anti-corruption efforts. Corruption is finally about imbalanced and arbitrary power relationships. The people need to be active participants in framing a law that in turn empowers them to fight corruption and the arbitrary use of power. That would ensure the "Jan" prevails.


The writers are associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, founded by Aruna Roy (




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Ending a brief spell of pro-incumbency electoral outcomes (Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections in 2009 and Bihar in 2010), the Indian voter returned to the long-standing anti-incumbency posture in four out of the five state Assembly elections last week. For over two decades, the Left Front in West Bengal boasted that it was the only political formation that bucked the national trend. When Bengal finally decided to catch up with the rest of India, the political tsunami that hit the state proved devastating for the Left Front. That Assam stood apart is a tribute to the Tarun Gogoi government and was perhaps also a gift from the people of the state to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has remained loyal to Assam as a member of Parliament. The results of last week's elections reinforce a common message coming from the elections in the past few years that "regional" or state-level leadership can play a significant role in electoral outcomes. In Bihar last year, the contest was between incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and a nebulous opposition. The leader who stood tall won the election. He mimicked the 2009 performance of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, Delhi's Sheila Dikshit and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh in 2008, and Narendra Modi and Mayawati in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh respectively in 2007. Both Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa offered strong leadership, as did Mr Gogoi, and led their party to victory. Even in Puducherry, it was the leadership that mattered, with Rangasamy personifying anti-incumbency, much like a dark horse. In Kerala, anti-incumbency was blunted by V S Achuthanandan's strong personality, which overpowered the amorphous Congress party leadership.

Elections at the state level have been "presidential" for a while and whenever "strong" leaders have offered opposition to strong incumbents, they have won (think of NTR in Andhra Pradesh) — and national political parties like the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party must come to terms with this fact. One immediate lesson for the Congress party is that as it prepares to challenge Ms Mayawati in Lucknow, it needs a strong leader. Perhaps Congress party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi should take on that mantle and offer himself as a potential chief ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh. Given the choice between Ms Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rajnath Singh and Mr Gandhi, most voters in Uttar Pradesh are likely to vote Mr Gandhi into office! So he should work in Lucknow before aiming for Delhi.


 While this week will be devoted to celebrations, post-mortem and hard bargaining for jobs in Kolkata, Chennai and other state capitals, both Ms Banerjee and Ms Jayalalithaa must focus on improving governance in their respective states. With 2014 three years away, they should not get distracted by national politics. Their work is at home. So they must neither disappoint their voters nor allow their impressive victory to let the verdict go to waste. West Bengal needs a lot of hard work and fresh thinking to regain its elan. Ms Banerjee should focus on that and skilfully use the good talent she has attracted into politics, without resorting to populism and whimsical politics. Ms Jayalalithaa has a unique opportunity to become the Narendra Modi of Tamil Nadu — a development-oriented chief minister who can strengthen the state's industrial base, modernise infrastructure and education and banish poverty and illiteracy. It is doable. And she must do it.







The scene for H-1B visas, issued by the US government to bring in temporary skilled workers to meet the domestic shortage, appears to have undergone a change. This is a matter of importance to India since the visas are a proxy for the demand scenario that Indian software vendors face in their prime market, the US, which, in turn, reflects the performance of the sector. This April, visa applications to be issued for the US financial year beginning October saw a 50 per cent drop over last April. This confirms a two-year downward trend in the number of applications received. Historically, it has been possible to gauge potential demand both by the speed at which the yearly quota is filled and by how many are finally approved. For example, a cap of 65,000 announced in 1990 was not reached till 1997. The cap was raised to a peak of 115,000 in 2000 and 2001, coinciding with the run-up to the technology bubble. The cap was kept high at 195,000 till 2003 and then reduced to 85,000 (including 20,000 for US graduates) in 2004. But the actual number of visas approved over that year and the next (2005) was around double the cap. The two years ending September 2009 saw over 200,000 visas approved, even as the quota of 85,000 remained on the books and was filled up early in April itself.

The demand for H-1B visas has declined partly owing to political targeting by US Congressmen and those supporting skilled workers in the country, who allege that locals are being denied jobs and their wages are getting depressed. Two new policy provisions introduced in the US may have had an impact. One clearly seeks to target overseas vendors by doubling the fees payable by them for these visas. Firms with more than 50 per cent US employees pay less. This imposes an additional annual burden of around $250 million on the Indian IT firms that export software to the US. Also, according to a new stipulation, an employer-employee relationship must exist between the firm applying for the visa and the engineer for whom the visa is intended, thus reportedly making it difficult to continue with body shopping. It, however, appears that body shopping – the vendor acting more like an employment agency – has become less important since vendors have matured and moved on. There are two other factors that may be far more significant. One, after the 2008 financial crisis the recovery in the US has been slow and demand for IT skills has probably not fully picked up. Also, Indian software vendors, particularly the leaders, have stepped up local recruitment in the US in the interest of their business development as well as social acceptability. This, more than anything else, may have reduced the demand for H-1B visas.






For a government that is entering its eighth year in office next week, last week's state Assembly elections sent mixed signals. While the ruling Indian National Congress has reasons to worry about its long-term future, the coalition government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by it has consolidated itself for the near term. Neither Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) nor the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) would want to part ways with the Congress party. With new battle lines being drawn in Uttar Pradesh, the UPA will be assured of support from the Samajwadi Party, if not the Bahujan Samaj Party, and a beleaguered Sharad Pawar is unlikely to break ranks in Maharashtra. A rapprochement with the AIADMK's Jayalalithaa offers new options, even encouraging a split in the DMK, and smaller parties would be happy not to rock the boat till the next elections, given the return of "anti-incumbency" among voters.

In short, not only is there no immediate threat to UPA-II but it is reasonable to expect political stability in New Delhi till the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014. What happens in 2014 is a different issue. Next year, the focus will be on the next round of state Assembly elections, especially in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Both national parties, the BJP and Congress, will have to burnish their credentials in these two states to position themselves for 2014 Lok Sabha elections.


Addressing a business forum last week, BJP leader Arun Jaitley put forward the thesis that a two-coalition system, with the Left Front trying but not succeeding in forming a third front, had come to exist. If the Left Front is unable to revive itself by 2014 then the next Lok Sabha elections would be fought between two rival coalitions, one led by the Congress and the other by the BJP. The BJP appears to be divided between those who wish to destabilise the Manmohan Singh government now and seek an early election and those who wish to see the party's senior leadership retire so that a younger leadership can take charge in time for the 2014 election.

In the near term, the UPA government has the opportunity to consolidate its position and focus on improving its image and performance. The Congress party is reportedly planning to organise a stock-taking and brainstorming retreat next month in Mount Abu. This is timely and necessary. Considering that the second year of UPA-II has been a virtual washout, with public focus on corruption and political debacles in key Congress states, the party has to get its act together, retrieve ground, retain alliance relationships and project a new agenda for the next three years, and beyond. The party needs the mature touch of wise political strategists and organisers instead of clever backroom tacticians and manipulators.

A turnaround strategy for the government will have to begin with the promised forward-looking reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers and key government officials. The government does not need a group of ministers dedicated to briefing the media. It needs a credible message and a strategy to deal with pervasive public scepticism about political and policy communication.

In the past year, the government's agenda has been set by the Opposition and civil society activists. The government has either been in a reactive mode, with an assortment of oppositional forces setting the agenda, or repeated slogans from UPA-II and the national Common Minimum Programme.

It's time for a makeover. UPA-II needs a new agenda of governance reform, development planning, national security and foreign policy. The agenda should be focused on the UPA's guiding principle of "inclusive growth" — an idea that the entire world is bringing itself to accept as the key to politically sustainable economic growth.

There are two aspects to "inclusive growth": the sustainability of the growth process and the strengthening of plural and secular politics. The first requires fiscal reform and consolidation, inflation control (mindful of the need for energy security), reform of public sector, efficient and transparent public-private partnerships, a more competitive and low-carbon economy, and external economic stability. The second aspect requires a bold articulation of the politics of inclusiveness, pluralism and secularism.

Governance reform has come to the fore. A clear articulation of initiatives taken – and yet to be taken – to reduce corruption and make government more transparent and accountable would help. With different political parties in government at the Centre and in states, greater political consultation and a spirit of "cooperative federalism" is the need of the hour.

Finally, a new bipartisan consensus on national security and foreign policy has to be reconstructed. Many issues pertaining to domestic policy may divide the political class in a democracy, but key issues of national security and foreign policy require greater convergence in thinking and cooperation in action — all the more so when India's neighbourhood remains unstable and worrisome.

India, like all large democracies, is obsessed with itself. Indian politics tends to be navel gazing. So it is useful to remind the country's political leadership that stabilising India's growth process over the next two years is of the greatest importance for the nation's future. India cannot take its growth surge of the past decade for granted. The country managed to survive the global financial crisis and economic slowdown and sustain reasonably high growth rates, thanks to wise management.

India cannot afford political destabilisation in the next two years at a time when doubts about global growth persist, China's rise continues unabated and threats to national and regional security abound. With the season of politics over, the focus must return to governance so that the ship of Indian economy and polity can be steered through choppy waters and uncertain global weather.





In 1892, a powerful American corporation convinced the king of Samoa of the advantages of being on the same side of the world map as the United States of America. Robert Louis Stevenson's mother, then a resident of the tiny island state in the South Pacific wrote that "it was simpler and in every way more natural to follow the Australian calendar; but now that so many vessels come from San Francisco, the powers that be have decided to set this right" by switching time zones so that Samoa was just a couple of hours behind California. Given the economic boom in the Americas through the last two decades of the nineteenth century, it made economic sense for Samoa to share business days with the US.

Now, 119 years later, Samoa wants to advance the country's clocks by an hour, effectively executing a westward jump across the International Date Line (IDL) and towards the dynamic Asia-Pacific economies. New Zealand and Australia are Samoa's largest trade partners and host a large number of expatriate Samoans who remit money to their relatives back home. Imports from China have risen from nearly zero in 2001 to around 10 per cent of the total import basket today. A Japanese multinational automotive component maker is one of the country's largest employers. Oil supplies arrive from Singapore.


Yet Samoa shares only four working days with its key economic partners, since it lies east of the IDL. As Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa's prime minister, says, "While it's Friday here, it's Saturday in New Zealand, and when we're at church Sunday, they're already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane." If he has his way, beginning next year, Samoa will be an hour ahead of New Zealand, not 23 behind. The tourism industry is complaining that it won't be able to use its "last place on earth to watch the sunset" brochures anymore. However, Prime Minister Tuilaepa's Tughlaqesque move – sometime back he enacted a law making drivers switch to the left side of the road instead of the right – might well unlock the economic potential of an additional 52 common working days every year.

It also brings Samoa into the Asia-Pacific region. In geopolitics, as in economics, it is important to pay attention to what happens at the margin. This small island state – with a population of 180,000 – is literally at the margin of the world map. Its decision to join the Asia-Pacific region leaving the Americas behind underlines the shift in global economic power from the East to the West.

For over three decades, the South Pacific has been a key theatre in the contest for diplomatic recognition between Taiwan and China. Both sides offered financial inducements to governments of tiny island states, each of which has its own flag and seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Not only has Beijing's score improved in recent years, the diplomatic investment is likely to stand it in good stead in the emerging contest with the US.

If eastern (American) Samoa officially belongs to the US, western Samoa enjoys excellent relations with China. According to the US State Department, China has "provided substantial assistance to Samoa. Assistance from the PRC [the People's Republic of China] has been especially focused on construction projects, including the main government building as well as performance venues for the South Pacific Games, which Samoa hosted in August-September 2007. The PRC-funded parliamentary offices opened in August 2008, and the Justice building opened in January 2010. The two countries also signed concessionary loans of $64 million in 2008 and $30.5 million in January 2010 for the construction of a multi-storey office and conference centre and a national hospital, respectively".

Beijing's rising influence has worried the US. According to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, a former US ambassador complained that China scored more points in Samoa by building a "lavish but impractical" swimming complex compared to the US Peace Corps, which had been working there for 40 years. It has also worried New Zealand and Australia. Another cable shows New Zealand's prime minister expressing concern over "unofficial" Chinese activity in the South Pacific and fearing that the ostensibly non-state actors involved might have links with elements of the Chinese government. Similar worries exist in the Australian strategic community.

India is part of the dynamic region that Samoa seeks to join, but the South Pacific is not really on New Delhi's policy radar. There is little by way of direct economic and diplomatic engagement, apart from the popularity of Hindi films in countries such as Fiji and Samoa. Therefore, there is scope for New Delhi to cooperate with Canberra and Auckland. Even as India looks at recharging its relations with Australia and New Zealand, it is worthwhile to assess whether there is a convergence of interests with respect to the South Pacific.

The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review






It is hard to understand why two different approaches are used to determine the external and domestic values of the rupee.


The recent debate in the media on inflation and monetary policy has provoked one thought: those who articulate maximum concern for bringing down inflation by monetary tightening – many of whom are from the financial sector – because the "poor" are supposed to suffer most from it, generally favour free flow of cross-border capital and its corollary, market-determined exchange rates. Obviously, they are little concerned about growth and jobs lost, or not created, because of currency appreciation and the resultant external deficit. (Economics 101 teaches us that net exports are a component of GDP.) One wonders whether the concern about inflation is not equally reflecting the need to protect the real value of the savings of the rich, for whom volatile exchange rates provide an opportunity to make more money through speculation, often described as trading, hence the advocacy of market-determined exchange rates. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why such a dramatically differing approach is advocated for the two values of the domestic currency – domestic value determined by inflation and the external value determined by the exchange rate – and that too in an increasingly globalised world economy.

As I said last week, even proponents of a liberal capital account and floating exchange rates have to admit that the exchange rate has an important influence on the competitiveness of the tradeables sector. Does the sharp increase in exports in the past four months suggest that they have not been affected by the significant real appreciation of the rupee? Frankly, I am puzzled since the phenomenon goes completely against the basic logic of competitiveness. I seem to be in good company. To quote from the RBI governor's replies in the post-policy question-and-answer session, "We were also very pleasantly surprised by the increase in exports growth in last quarter of last year." It has been claimed that the growth is the result of a diversification in the product mix and markets for our exports. But, as the governor said, "It is not very clear that hypothesis stands to empirical scrutiny because some initial research done in the Reserve Bank shows that the impact of that diversification is actually quite small. So there is something else that played there and we need to investigate that." In fact, the export growth seems as miraculous as India's overall economic growth when, in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" index, India ranks 134th out of 183 countries, scoring particularly badly on ease of starting a business (165th) and, above all, enforcing contracts (182nd, behind Angola but pipped by Timor-Leste for the bottom slot). Another index on "Entrepreneurship and Opportunity", produced by the Legatum Institute, a think-tank, puts India 93rd out of 110 countries" (The Economist, April 20, 2011).





Current account 
deficit net 
of remittances













































Exports apart, equally important is the competitiveness of the domestic economy with imports — in other words, trade and current account deficits. The table gives the trade and current account balances from 2000-01 to 2010-11 (first three quarters). Some conclusions are inescapable:

  • The merchandise trade deficit was fairly small until 2003-04 but has gone up very sharply thereafter.
  • The current account deficit, as conventionally calculated, was fairly modest until 2006-07, but has galloped since then. (In my view, the current account deficit, net of remittances, is a better reflection of the domestic economy's competitiveness as, for economic analysis, remittances need to be treated more as capital transfers, though of an irreversible nature, a way of financing the deficits between external income and expenditure, not "earnings" of the domestic economy.) 
  • Through the period, the nominal exchange rate has remained relatively stable. In other words, there has been a very sharp appreciation of the rupee in real, that is, inflation-adjusted, terms.

Are these changes merely reflective of the savings investment imbalance or of a dramatic, unannounced change in the exchange rate policy? Are savings and investments exogenous to the exchange rate? More on this next week.







What colours come to mind when you think of infrastructure? Possibly, the black of coal and roads, or the grey of power-plant smoke and ash, or the drab ochre of concrete. Green is possibly the farthest removed; yet that is the direction in which infrastructure development has to head.

How does infrastructure move to green? Three types of movements are possible:

One, move to less carbon-consuming production methods; for example switching from hydrocarbons to nuclear power;two, move to replace lost carbons, like afforestation; and three, move to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by better planning; for example, more mass transportation over personal vehicles.

The Indian experience and the way forward are comprehensively presented in 3-i Network's India Infrastructure Report 2010 titled "Infrastructure Development in a Low Carbon Economy".

In his lucidly presented introductory chapter, Partha Mukhopadhyay of the Centre for Policy Research sensitises us to the consequences of the choices we make today in infrastructure that lock us in to a particular carbon-growth path. He argues that the US choice of a low-density road-centric urban form is partly the reason its transport sector emissions are almost three times as much as the UK and France. Similarly, because France meets around three-fourths of its electricity needs from nuclear energy, it emits less carbon per capita than the UK.

The maximum impact of "green" strategies can be seen in three sectors – urban, transportation and energy.

In urban planning, Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, points out that "a great deal of discussion in recent years is around policies that will help us reduce personal transport use". The most common solutions proposed are: (i) high-density cities with a very dense core; (ii) land-use planning promoting mixed use; (iii) short-trip distances; and (iv) transit-oriented development.

Urban strategist Sanjeev Sanyal concurs that "density" must be a critical part of sustainable urban planning. He points out that the implications of this line of thinking can be counter-intuitive. For instance, it suggests that the crowded bazaars of Mumbai are more environmentally sustainable than the green lawns of Lutyen's Delhi. So what should we do, he asks? First, we need to give up creating flat urban sprawls based on outdated ideas about American suburbia. Second, public transport must be built into the urban design. Finally, it is no longer meaningful to design for separate "zones" for commercial and residential activity. Successful cities are an evolving mix of all kinds of activity and we need to allow for this.

On transportation modes, Kaushik Ranjan Bandyopadhyay of the Asian Institute of Transport Development makes out a strong case for policy interventions in India to shift from road to rail. The pi-chart shows the "transport carbon-dioxide" emissions across different modes of transport:

Road transport is the largest contributor to emissions. Unfortunately for India, road transport has emerged as the dominant segment and the share of the railways is shrinking. The share of inland water transport and coastal shipping is insignificant.

The railways are a relatively benign mode of transport compared to road transport when considered in terms of energy intensity and emission. The Asian Institute of Transport Development (AITD) conducted a comparative assessment of rail and road transport in India from perspectives of social and environmental sustainability. The study observed that the energy consumption on different inter-city rail sections in the case of freight traffic varied between 10.28 and 25.01 per cent of the energy consumed by road transport in parallel stretches of state and national highways. In the case of passenger transport, the energy consumption on rail varies between 78.77 and 94.91 per cent of the energy consumed by road transport.

There is an expectation that the high-powered Committee on Transportation chaired by Dr Rakesh Mohan will attempt to swing trunk movements back to rail through focused policy initiatives.

According to the US Department of Energy, between 2001 and 2025, India's carbon emissions will grow by 3 per cent annually, twice the predicted emissions growth in the US, making India the third- largest air polluter after the US and China by 2015 itself. If India is to avoid this dubious distinction then a conscious decision must be taken to switch to more environmentally sustainable energy technologies. Manpreet Sethi in her treatise on "The Nuclear Energy Imperative" makes a strong case for nuclear as a long-term, sustainable and "green" choice for India.

India currently draws the bulk of its electricity from thermal sources and 55 per cent is met by coal. Hydro power comes a distant second at about 25 per cent, and then renewable sources provide another small share of the electricity at about 15 per cent. Nuclear reactors provide only 3 per cent of the total electricity generation.

The problems with coal-dependence are well documented. India is also the seventh-largest net importer of oil in the world and depends on imports for 68 per cent of its oil consumption. The third source of thermal power generation is natural gas. Given the limited domestic availability of natural gas vis-a-vis demand, it will have to be sourced from outside through elaborate and long-distance pipelines and LNG shipments.

Efforts to harness viable renewable energy resources continue to increase its share from sources such as wind, biomass and solar. However, none of these has presented itself as being suitable, intrinsically or economically, for large-scale power generation where continuous, reliable power supply is needed and can only complement the addition of new generation capacities.

At a Planning Commission meeting chaired by the prime minister on April 22, 2011 to give shape to the 12th Plan, Jairam Ramesh set the cat among the policy-cum-growth pigeons. His view was that the plan panel's ambitious goal to add 100,000 Mw to India's power generation capacity during the 12th Plan period (2012-17) was "ecologically impossible", considering that 90 per cent of the proposed target was coal-based. Not only would this lead to a large increase in greenhouse gases but also involve extensive mining over vast areas of forest and tribal land. Never in the recent past has the "growth-versus-sustainability" debate been as sharp.

Clearly, the requirement is to fast-track civilian nuclear expansion while maintaining the highest standards of nuclear safety and security. Here our prime minister has certainly got it right!

The writer is the chairman of Feedback Ventures. The views expressed are personal







West Bengal's main challenge is going to be the style, method, intellect and personality of the leader.

Looking at Ms Mamata Banerjee three days after her famous victory over the Communists, it is hard not to hark back to William Shakespeare who, in Henry the IV, had the King grumbling "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" and Samuel Johnson who pointed out about his friend James Boswell "he is his own tormentor". It is obvious that Ms Banerjee has major challenges before her, but if she doesn't want history to diagnose her as her own tormentor, and if she wants the crown of thorns to be less painful, she will have to control her impulsiveness and modify her style to one of calm thoughtfulness. Politically, she has to control the CPM which, despite its massive defeat, still got 40 per cent of the popular vote. Economically, she has to bring investment back to the State. Sociologically, she has to alter the work culture in the organised sector in the State. Administratively, she has to detoxify the government institutions.

The political challenge from the Marxists is going to be immediate, if only because the younger lot, with an eye to the future, have already said that the only true Marxist way is the way of mass struggle. That means bandhs, dharnas, morchas, marches and gheraos in Kolkata and less-carefully camouflaged violence in the rural areas, this time perhaps in tacit understanding with the CPI (M-L). The only question is how long will it be before the first salvo is fired by the Communists. Ms Banerjee may therefore have to 'pacify' the State before she can attend to the other tasks. West Bengal's agriculture is in a better shape than most other States, as is the rural infrastructure of roads, schools and health centres. But job creation will need investment. This will require not just land — which few will be willing to give up in such a fertile and productive region — but also a sea-change in the attitudes of the bureaucracy and the industrial workers. Put simply, many of the bureaucrats are Communist party apparatchiks and the unions are controlled by the CPM. Both will seek to sabotage Ms Banerjee's efforts to attract investment. They will need to be neutralised. But since nearly three-and-a-half decades of accumulated baggage is not got rid of in a day or a week or even a year, the process will necessarily be slow. It will be interesting to see how patiently and cleverly Ms Banerjee attends to the task. Sometimes cleverness lies in patience, but will Ms Banerjee recognise that?

West Bengal's main challenge, as in other States ruled by parties with a single person in command is, therefore, going to be the style, method, intellect and personality of the leader. If Messrs Nitish Kumar, Shivraj Chauhan, Tarun Gogoi and Narendra Modi and Ms Sheila Dixit are of a type, Ms Mayawati and Ms Jayalalithaa are of another. What happens to West Bengal in the next few years will depend on which model Ms Mamata Banerjee chooses to follow. The rest will be mere detail.





As election results started pouring in on Friday, first, it was the party supporters and the media who had gathered in large numbers outside the Poes Garden residence of the AIADMK leader, J. Jayalalithaa. Then the numbers of policemen swelled — initially it was the lower ranks for crowd control, and as the trend became clearer, senior officials carrying bouquets. Finally, came the bureaucrats. When policemen tried to regulate the crowd to make way for officials, an AIADMK worker asked: "Where were you all, all these days? Exasperated, a policeman retorted: "We were in her heart."

Existential issue

Guess who has more reason to worry after the Assembly elections results in West Bengal? The logical answer: The Left, uprooted by Mamata Banerjee after a 34-year-old uninterrupted stint in power. However, observers say that it is the Congress that needs to worry more. With Mamata getting a majority on her own, and the Left occupying Opposition space, the country's oldest party might find itself grappling with existential issues, they say.

Crossing Over

Businessmen and industrialists found to be better readers of changing political wind than many political pundits proved their mettle this time also. Many had started distancing themselves from the Left Front in West Bengal after the defeat in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009. The municipal elections in 2010 confirmed their apprehension. Now, after the recent Assembly elections, there is praise of Mamata Banerjee, with some of the biggest beneficiaries from the earlier regime going out of the way to criticise the misrule of the last 34 years. Such is life.

Rail Board churn?

With Mamata Banerjee all set to move to Kolkata as the Chief Minister , there will be a new Minister for Railways. But officials appear to be more curious about the Railway Board Chairman, Vivek Sahai. Sahai will retire June end — unless the Government increases the retirement age by two years, or he gets an extension. When he retires, two key posts of the Board will be up for grabs — the Chairman, Railway Board and the Member-Traffic. Sahai has been holding additional charge of Member-Traffic post since June 1, 2010.

Star power

Last September, a Business Line correspondent was confronted by an official from the poultry sector on the prospects of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. "Looks like the DMK will come back to power without any problem, going by the trend in the by-elections," the correspondent said. The poultry sector official differed. "No sir. Amma (Ms Jayalalithaa) will come back to power. See, it is because of Sani (Saturn) that she is suffering. But while transiting, it gives a lot of rewards. Amma will benefit and return to power. Wait and see," he said. May 13 has proved his faith in Lord Saturn right!

Wise move

Why did T. S. Vijayan, whose term as chairman of LIC expired on April 30, decide to continue as Managing Director, though it was seen as a demotion? Vijayan has two more years' service left at LIC, and if any of the other existing Managing Directors is promoted as Chairman, he has to report to him. LIC insiders think it is a wise move on the part of their former boss. This is because investigations into LIC's investments are going on and Vijayan may be called for explanation.

Once he is out of LIC, he will find it difficult to get any support from the organisation. He will have to independently fight his case.








The hike announced by oil marketing companies in the price of petrol by. 5 per litre is welcome, sort of. Since these state-owned companies do not move without government permission, the price hike must be seen as the beginning of the government's welcome release from pre-poll inertia. It marks a move to contain burgeoning subsidy bills. The reality is that decontrolling the price of diesel is the key reform in the petro-subsidy story. And that is something the government has not had the courage to deliver till now. An empowered group of ministers is meeting later this week to mull over diesel price revision. They can be expected, in their current form, to hike the price of the fuel by a couple of rupees, not actually decontrol the price. What the government needs to do is remove arbitrary layers of excise duty on petrol, bringing its price down, or moderating its price rise, while allowing decontrol of diesel prices and letting its price go up. The current regulated regime inhibits competition in fuel retailing, paving the way for arbitrary mark-ups in the pricing of fuel, based on which oil companies claim under-recoveries and receive subventions from the Budget, straining the exchequer. Once fuel prices are decontrolled and official subsidy withdrawn, private oil marketing companies can enter the fray, paving the way for real retail competition, generating pressure to strip off artificial layers of cost and hold prices down. State-level taxes constitute large parts of the final price paid by consumers. States can moderate these, too. There would be a one-time impact on inflation, as a result of fuel price decontrol. However, once this increase has worked its way through the system, it would cease to be a major factor. In fact, countries that allow full passthrough of fuel prices to the retail level have some of the lowest rates of inflation in the world. The reining in of the fiscal deficit that would be achieved through fuel price decontrol would make a major contribution to containing inflation from the demand side. Now that elections are over, the government should find the courage to do the right thing and decontrol diesel prices and rationalise taxes on petrol and diesel.








With the Supreme Court quashing the disqualification of 16 rebel MLAs — 11 from the ruling BJP and five independent members — of Karnataka, the state's politics is warming up again. The disqualification had taken them out of the reckoning when the Yeddyurappa government had proved its majority in the legislature. Had they been allowed to take part in the trust vote, the result would have gone against the BJP government. Now that the apex court has ruled that the disqualification by the speaker was bad in law, it could well pave the way for another floor test for Yeddyurappa. The proactive governor of the state has already said as much. This does not necessarily mean a crisis for the BJP in the state. The leadership could well buy off the dissenters, never mind that such a move would mire the state's politics still deeper in opportunism and corruption. And that undermines the BJP's campaign on corruption against the UPA government at the Centre. An important aspect of the Supreme Court's ruling, which will be of significance for all political parties, is the affirmation of the independent nature of the five MLAs — the court has said that their joining the government doesn't mean they can be disqualified under the anti-defection law. In Karnataka, however, this would mean another act in a rather sordid drama being played out. The Yeddyurappa regime has faced serious corruption charges with the state governor H R Bhardwaj having accorded sanction to prosecute the CM over alleged acts of corruption.
Last year, cynical politics in the state touched a new low with the Reddy brothers, who had earlier held the government hostage, turning around to support the regime after the rebel MLAs sought to cripple the government — basically in exchange for a bigger share of the pie. Then came the shameful spectacle of the government surviving a vote of confidence by a voice vote amidst total bedlam in the Assembly. All this brings glory to neither the state of Karnataka nor to the BJP. The way out for the BJP is to walk the talk on corruption and purge the corrupt elements entrenched in the government it heads.








Looking at property advertisements, a foreigner could be forgiven for thinking that Indians are fanning out to all corners of the world in search of their dream home, from Orange County in California to Provence in France. Only the fine print shows that these residential projects require no passports or complicated forex transactions, as they are very much in India, the ones mentioned above being located in Ghaziabad and Gurgaon, respectively. The developers' geographical licence should not matter, however, because the point is moot whether the prospective buyers are actually drawn by white sand beaches and fields of lavender of the actual places named. The builders should probably get hold of data regarding Indian tourism patterns so that they can latch on to names with better recall value. Then again, that could land them in hot water if their product does not match up to the buyers' experience of the place.

Given the price of real estate in any Indian conurbation, they should actually all be called El Dorado, Shangrila and Xanadu — presuming, once again, that buyers would be conversant with the associated imagery. A random internet search revealed at least one El Dorado, in Gurgaon, but whether it is paved in gold like the mythical South American city is unclear. There is also a Kohinoor Shangri La in Pune, which may well promise its residents the same sense of insulated happiness that the fabled Tibetan haven once offered. And a Xanadu crops up in Rajarhat, Kolkata, which could well have all the modcons that Marco Polo observed when he visited Kubla Khan's capital in the 13th century, such as gilt and marble rooms with murals, wood panelled halls, a green area with fountains, meadows e t al. Ideas clearly have not changed much since then.








The voters of four states and a Union territory have not just spoken, they have roared, and their message is clear: no more toleration of corruption and arrogance, and wholehearted support for good governance. Corruption in India is systemic, a constituent part of how the system works, like fuel for an engine, and not deviant behaviour by a stray politician or civil servant. Corruption is how India's politicians mobilise essential funding for their parties, and, in the process, their own personal fortunes. They steal from the exchequer, overspending on state-funded projects and procurement, from which kickbacks are collected. They sell patronage, dispensing mining leases, land and assorted licences. And they extort from the public: without paying tribute, files will not move, government clearances will not materialise, electricity will not flow, land would not be registered or, in extreme cases, such as in the case of the UP engineer for whose murder a BSP member of the legislature was recently found guilty, you might not be allowed to live. So, every year, tens of thousands of crores of rupees are diverted, primarily from business, to feed this corruption machine. This process not just adds to the cost of projects and pushes India to the bottom of global rankings in ease of doing business, but also makes nonsense of corporate governance and civil service accountability. If the political masters use the government machinery to make money, it cannot be done without the collusion of civil servants. Such cooperation usually leads on to their personal enrichment as well. The current process of political funding, therefore, subverts the entire system.

Voter revolt against corruption is more powerful than civil society activism. The confluence of the two could well now force systemic reform to institutionalise political funding. The key is, of course, transparency in receipts and expenditure; state funding is just a bogey that will only serve to divert attention. If this reform happens, that will make possible many things that boost business efficiency and deepen democracy: corporate governance, speedy and just administration.

Another key contribution of Friday's election results could be an innovative policy to release farmland for commercial use without peasant protest and bloodshed. Mamata Banerjee has come to power in Bengal on the back of her party's support for tribals and farmers at Lalgarh, Nandigram and Singur. She cannot disown their resistance against unjust acquisition of their land. At the same time, she has to galvanise the state's somnolent economy into frenetic growth to generate jobs and incomes and meet popular expectations. And she cannot do this without converting farmland for commercial use. The only way she can both convert farmland into commercial land and retain her political integrity is to devise a new kind of compensation policy for those who lose land.

Everyone wishes to improve their lot in life. If a farmer is offered a better future after he loses his land, there is no reason for him to say no — provided certainty and fairness are part of the package. Continued stakeholdership for the farmer in the land is the best way to achieve certainty of future incomes and fairness in sharing appreciation of value that would follow after commercial development of the land. To materialise this in a legal-organisational form calls for imagination and innovation. Ms Banerjee actually has no choice but to turn imaginative and innovative, and the result would be for Bengal once again to lead the rest of the country in thought and action.

Tarun Gogoi's stupendous performance reiterates the message sent out by Nitish Kumar's re-election: people richly reward honest focus on governance and development. Politicians across the country will take the lesson to heart and India would be the gainer.

 The DMK's rout shows a maturing electorate that takes offence at the arrogance of rulers that they can simply purchase the people's acquiescence in organised plunder. Money power and media control could not save the DMK. Even if the choice for the voter bent on punishing those who offend her self-respect is between Tweedledee and Tweedledamma, the immediate culprit has to get it in the neck. The Left in Bengal actually did not know they were losing so badly, revealing an insularity that is a telling comment on its Stalinist functioning in that state. Wisdom, ideas, insight and instruction flows only from the top to the bottom of the organisational hierarchy, never in the reverse direction. Departure from this stance at the last moment in Kerala allowed the Left there to give the Congress a real run for its money. The CPI-M's official machinery tried its best to dump the crusading chief minister V S Achuthanandan but surrendered to popular pressure and chose him to lead its electoral battle, with telling results.

But it is not just organisational functioning that the Left needs to reform. It needs to dump its Stalin-era notion that capitalism has exhausted all its emancipatory potential, is moribund and has to be opposed tooth and nail. The Left needs to honestly accept that its task vis-à-vis capitalism is not to throw it into the Indian Ocean but to broaden the participatory base of globalised growth. If it has the grace to do that, it has the potential to become a vital force in the polity, instead of being pushed inexorably to its margins. Such introspection and change would be good for India as a whole as well, at a time when a people's war is on against plunder and contempt for citizens' rights.









The Tamil Nadu assembly election result was viewed as the test-case of public opinion on the 2G corruption case. One might argue since 1991, the people of the state have largely voted for change, either in favour of the Karunanidhi-led DMK or the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK. But, the present verdict — the landslide victory of the AIADMK — should be seen more than for a change management. It has as much to do with the 2G scam as it is with family politics.

In the 2006 poll, the DMK got only 90 seats in the 234-member assembly, but managed to form the government with the support of the Congress and PMK from outside. It improved its tally to 99 by winning some bypolls. The opposition AIADMK finished second with a tally of 60 seats. This time, the DMK front was reasonably strong, with the Congress and PMK on its side. But by capitalising on the strong anti-DMK wave and roping in, in the main, actor Vijayakanth's DMDK, Jayalalithaa has scored a thumping victory. The scale and sweep of her victory astonished many seasoned observers.

In the past, Jaya had won elections riding on sympathy and emotional factors. This time, however, she did not have the comfort of such factors and had to take on the DMK on the performance front only. It is true that the Karunanidhi-led DMK government had utilised its clout as a partner in the UPA government at the Centre to get more central support to implement various schemes and projects. But it seems that they could not translate into votes.
The verdict 2011 is clearly against corruption, price rise, the worsening power situation, family rule and the deteriorating law and order. Despite the state economy growing at 8-9% a year, reckless borrowing has increased the public debt to over . 1 lakh crore in March 2011, against . 57,457 crore at the end of March in 2006 when the DMK came to power. The DMK's first family and influential partymen richly, but unduly, benefited with the size of the economy in terms of the state GDP growing from . 2,53,704 crore in 2006-07 to .


4,64,009 crore in 2009-10. It is estimated to touch . 5,18,576 crore in 2010-11.

Though Karunanidhi managed to save the party from several splits and revolts, he had deviated from his mentor Annadurai's legacy of delinking family from politics. Annadurai had kept away his family from politics but the DMK has now almost become a family in politics, a free-forall for siblings, relatives and their friends. Also, Anna led a simple life and never had a liking for running business or amassing assets. But the present-day DMK stands as a stark repudiation to Anna's philosophy.

Also, the DMK used the friendly alliance with the Congress for the last seven years to contain or even muzzle the opposition. But the party's reputation nosedived when the 2G scam broke last year and the Supreme Court intervened to monitor the investigation into the swindle. The party didn't recover from this deadly blow, as is evident from its crushing defeat in the 2011 polls.

On her part, Jayalalithaa has challenging days ahead. She has to roll out an action plan to meet the high expectations of a clean and efficient administration. On the economic front, she must ensure that Tamil Nadu is not left out of the India growth story. To achieve this, her government should be able to ease the power shortage, address the infrastructure inadequacies and reduce public debt.

On the political front, she must keep her promise of running a responsive government and delivering good governance. Now that the people have punished her opponents, performance —not vindictive politics — must guide her priorities. While her government must expose the wrongs done by the outgoing DMK government, the aim should not be to exact revenge. The Jayalalithaa government should also not politicise the bureaucracy.
By shunning confrontational approach, Jaya should be able to build good relations with the Centre and neighbouring states. Luckily, she has no aspiring family members waiting in the wings blot her record book. She must know from the experience of others the difficulty of running a party or running a government they have started with lot of ambitions. Fortunately, she has inherited the celebrated legacy of her mentor MGR, along with some of his key advisors and loyal supporters. She must simply focus on giving good governance for the next five years.







Most of the discussions on the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) 'Discussion Paper' on deregulating the interest rate paid by banks on savings deposits have focused on the micro level; on what deregulation could mean for individual savers and borrowers.

There has been virtually no discussion on what deregulation could mean for the safety and stability of banks.
Yet, the final verdict on whether this is the right time for deregulation hinges critically on the second rather than the first.

As far as the impact on individual savers and borrowers is concerned, opinion is unanimous that deregulation will spell the death-knell of the present system of a uniform, administered rate that bears little relation to underlying demand-supply conditions. Not only will rates be more market-related, they will also vary from bank to bank, depending on each bank's needs and strategy.

To the extent rates will move up and down, as with any market-related rates, for savers there is trade-off between an assured (if low) rate of return and one that could, theoretically at least, be almost as volatile as the stock market. So, in situations of tight liquidity, savings bank depositors could see the interest rate on their deposits go up and when liquidity is plentiful, rates could fall, other things remaining constant.

The problem is liquidity is not only a function of borrowers' demand for funds; it is also a function of the central bank's management of liquidity. So, in situations like in most of 2009 and 2010, when the RBI chooses to keep the system flush with liquidity, interest rates might not reflect the true supply-demand imbalance. Consequently, there is no certainty that deregulating rates will necessarily give savers a better deal.
But yes, to the extent the savings bank (SB) deposits interest rate is the only regulated rate and has remained unchanged at 3.5% since March 1, 2003 even as the RBI's policy rates have moved up and down over time, there can be no case for continuing with an administered interest rate.

Moreover, savings deposits account for about 13% of financial savings of the household sector. Presumably, deregulation will improve monetary transmission. In the present context, it will raise both real and nominal rates. It will also encourage product innovation as banks will try to compete, not only on rates, but also on productdesign as, for instance, by offering differentiated rates depending on the size of the deposit (something they are not allowed to do at present).

International experience too suggests there are gains to be had from deregulation. In Hong Kong, for instance, interest rate deregulation increased the efficacy of monetary policy by improving the correlation between retail bank deposit rates and market interest rates.

Besides, savings rates are not regulated in developed markets (though there are usually strict limits on the number of transactions permitted). Thus, the theoretical arguments for deregulation are sound.
What is less clear is whether these gains, both at the micro and at the macro level, will be outweighed by the fallout of deregulation on the composition of banks' deposits. Will the resultant volatility in savings bank deposits (that constitute a significant part of a bank's 'core' deposits) increase the vulnerability of banks, given their relatively large exposure to long-term loans? The reality is many banks have used short-term funds like savings deposits to make long-term loans, confident in the belief that these are 'core deposits' that will not be withdrawn. Never mind that, on paper, these are deposits that can be withdrawn on demand. That belief was not without basis in a scenario where a low and uniform rate of interest made savers 'lazy'. But deregulation could change that. Once banks begin to compete for funds based on interest rates, these deposits lose their 'core' element. This could jeopardise the safety of banks by widening the maturity mismatch between their assets and liabilities.

The discussion paper does raise this issue but is confident the downside is limited. But with savings bank deposits accounting for 22% of total deposits of scheduled commercial banks, we could be skating on thin ice. Deregulating the SB interest rate could see substantial swings in savings bank deposits in individual banks in response to interest rate changes.

Banks will be hard put to determine what is 'core' and can be used to make long-term loans and what is 'fleeting' and not to be lent for longterm purposes. It is significant that the share of term loans has increased during the period 2000-09 even as the share of term deposits has come down, suggesting maturity mismatches have widened during this period.

The ball is, therefore, in the RBI's court. As banking sector regulator, if it feels the fallout in terms of maturity mismatches will not derail banks, it should go ahead. But not unless it is very sure! Else it should bide its time.









Just before the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Prakash Karat, still strutting with the swagger of the Left's largest ever contingent in Parliament, declared before an election rally in Agartala that it was a "thousand per cent confirmed" that the Third Front would form the next government in Delhi. The Left was promptly reduced to a rump in the Lok Sabha and Karat's grand Agartala boast turned out to be the mother of misjudgements.

With the Left parties now also trounced in their two primary bastions – the state assemblies of West Bengal and Kerala – Mr Karat is staring into the abyss and confronting deeper existential questions than ever before. The election results last week have prompted much debate around one primary theme: is the Left now history?

The glib and lazy answer is yes. After all, the Left only remains in power in Tripura which will go the polls in 2013. It's a far cry from the halcyon days of 2004 when the stock markets, ficklest of creatures at the best of times, would quiver at the slightest sound-byte in anger from Left Front MPs basking in their new-found importance in television studios. Remember A B Bardhan and his famous 'bhaad mei jaye disinvestment' retort which came to symbolise the moment.


Karat had dogmatically insisted from every rooftop before the results came in that the Left would still retain West Bengal and Kerala. The scale of Mamata Banerjee's victory now and the eerie silence from Gopalan Bhawan ever since completes the picture of a general in retreat and worse, a general in denial.

Yet, look at the numbers from these state elections and it becomes clear that the obituaries of the Left are premature. In West Bengal, the Left Front may be down to a mere 61 seats from 227 in 2006 but it managed to retain a little over 40 per cent of the vote share. It has been wiped out in terms of seats and its vote share declined drastically from 48.4 per cent in 2006 but it still retains a core base that can be harnessed again if Mamata crash-lands.


Unlike the Congress which simply got erased without a trace from the Hindi heartland in the 1990s, the Left can take solace from the fact that it can still bank on such a large chunk of the state's voters despite three and a half decades of incumbency.


 Secondly, in Kerala, the real story is not the Congress-led UDF's victory but the fact that VS Achutanandan almost managed to thwart it with a spirited counter-attacking campaign in the last stages of electioneering. Rahul Gandhi's ill-considered 'old man' jibe certainly didn't work the way it was supposed to and the fact is that the LDF only has 4 seats less than the UDF. Its vote share actually went up marginally from 2006 (44.1% to 45%).


Though the UDF substantially increased its voting percentage in 2011, very little separates both alliances in an election where the primary gainers were parties like the Muslim League and the KC (M).

The Left is down, but it is far from out.


 This becomes easier to understand if we start seeing the Left not as the monolith of its own construction but as it has evolved in practice in recent years: as separate regional outfits in West Bengal and Kerala, led by a largely unelectable crowd in Delhi that pretends to run a national movement.


The wide disconnect between the stalwarts who fight elections in the states and the ideological apparatchiks who run the party in Delhi has been the Left's reality for a while now and also its primary problem. In Kerala, for instance, the Politburo dithered till the last moment before backing the 87-year-old Achutanandan: whose vigorous campaigning in the end surprised and blind-sided the Congress.


The greatest challenge for the Left then is not ground numbers but leadership at its nerve centre. In a country with as many sharp divides as ours, a creative Left movement based on the language of equality will always engender enough takers. The problem for Mr Karat is finding the right idiom and a vocabulary that still appeals to those outside the circle of the converted and avoids the obscurantist mental cobwebs of the past.


The BJP, on the opposite side of the spectrum, is still struggling to come to terms with the lessons of its defeat in 2004 and to come up with a new idiom for expressing its politics.


After three decades in Writers' Building, the red bastion of West Bengal was bound to fall one day. The question for Mr Karat is whether his party will honestly think through the lessons in the politics of aspiration that its fall brings and come back stronger or reflexively dismiss it as a minor blip in the march of the proletariat.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The steep hike in petrol prices announced Saturday, just 24 hours after the five Assembly election results were announced, did not come as any surprise given that the state-owned oil marketing companies were demanding this for months — almost ever since the last increase in January — with the rise in crude prices internationally. Only, till now, the government's political clearance — which despite deregulation is still required before any hike — was not forthcoming. The oil companies do have a case — as they say, if the international price of crude rises and the government is unwilling for this to be passed on to the consumer, it should subsidise the OMCs to that extent, as no commercial operation can function in an uneconomic manner. It might not be a bad idea for the government to bring out a white paper on this subject — so that the people get a clear picture of where the global price of crude stands and why they have to pay such a high price for petrol and other fuels. Only petrol prices have been raised now, but hikes in diesel, kerosene and LPG appear imminent, which will add considerably to the burden of the aam aadmi. It might happen as early as the coming week, when the Empowered Group of Ministers dealing with this subject meets. Further, while diesel has not been deregulated so far, proposals to do so are also before the government. Given that the Indian government can do little about international crude prices, the only thing it can consider to give the common man some relief is to reconsider the tax component in the price of petrol and diesel — which in Maharashtra, for example, is as high as 54 per cent — making India's fuel prices one of the costliest in the world. What the government perhaps fails to realise is that the burden of such extortionist taxation by the Centre and the states is not borne by rich car owners but by poor and middle class two-wheeler users. Even in relatively rich Mumbai, the number of two-wheelers is five times that of four-wheeled vehicles, and they form the bulk of petrol consumers. In smaller towns and villages across the country, the proportion of two-wheelers is far higher, and it is on them that the brunt of the hikes will fall. Another aspect that is overlooked by the states and the Centre is the natural growth in volumes — around five per cent annually — and they collect taxes on this too. It is also possible that there is some form of double taxation — first on crude and then on the finished product. If so, there is additional scope for giving the consumers some relief. It could also consider a revenue-neutral policy: for example, if it taxes petrol at 10 per cent — Rs 10 per litre when the cost is Rs 100; if the cost goes up to Rs 200 it should lower the rate to five per cent, and still get Rs 10 per litre. Under the existing system, the government's revenues are shooting up while the aam aadmi has to suffer. The government is only too well aware that the burden of indirect taxation is borne unequally — more by the poor than the rich and upper middle classes. All pay the same for petrol or other fuels, but while public sector workers and those who benefited from the Sixth Pay Commission's largesse might be able to absorb the hit on their pockets, the vast army of unorganised sector workers and daily wage earners might go under. With the hike in diesel, LPG and kerosene looming, the government should urgently examine how its burden can be eased for our weakest citizens.






Anger against corruption is now back on the national agenda thanks to Tamil Nadu Assembly results. This state has been decisively voting against corruption over the last several decades. The defeat of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2011 is comparable only to that of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1996. Since the state does not have a credible third alternative (same problem as in national politics), the electorate here always has a Hobson's choice between the DMK and the AIADMK. The anger of the electorate over corruption had been simmering for quite some time. Corruption did not mean only the 2G spectrum. Every district had a DMK satrap whose family controlled the district. They had become like traditional polegars (palayakkaarans in Tamil) who had the autonomy over their region and had to pay the kisti to the king (read Karunanidhi) at the headquarters where the first family, including the first cousins, dabbled in all fields from sand quarrying to real estate to mega movies where moolah was waiting to be extracted. The 2G spectrum was actually the last straw on the camel's back. The massive turnout in cities was prompted by the disgust over spectrum among the new generation voters and the educated sections. In small towns and villages poor women were angry that they were getting ruined by government-run liquor shops turning their men into alcoholics and lazy, thanks to the freebies. A significant though not a big factor that went unnoticed by the national media was the intense campaign against the DMK and the Congress over the Eelam issue. Fringe and marginal Tamil groups led by film personality Seeman carried on a consistent campaign against all Congress candidates holding the Congress regime at the Centre responsible for the slaughter of millions of Tamils in the Eelam final war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Rajapakse government. The price rise and power cuts were other factors that strengthened the anti-incumbency mood. Corruption became the overall motif to despise the DMK regime. The DMK and the Congress were partners in mutual hate. The Congress youth wing was angry that the DMK has tainted the entire alliance as corrupt thanks to spectrum. The DMK was angry that the Congress, which till yesterday was a pliant ally, was now an arm- twisting bully. It was a déjà vu of 1980 when a similar alliance between the DMK and the Congress to fight M.G. Ramachandran fell flat as neither the DMK cadres nor the Congress voters were comfortable about the alliance. The Congress made the huge mistake of not distancing itself from the DMK around the time of former telecom minister A. Raja's arrest. It spurned J. Jayalalithaa's offer of unconditional support at that time. Vijaykanth, who led the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, was then yet to announce his alliance with Ms Jayalalithaa. He was open to forming a third front with the Congress and was waiting for signals from Sonia Gandhi. Having missed the opportunity, the Congress is now the biggest loser in Tamil Nadu. Puducherry has always been an oasis for the Congress even when it lost Tamil Nadu in 1967. This time it has lost Puducherry too. The Congress seems to have the knack of being on the opposite side of people's anti-corruption mood everywhere. N. Rangasamy, erstwhile chief minister in Puducherry, was popular with people for both his simplicity and overall honesty. The Congress threw him out of the party and has now lost power to the very same man. Mr Rangasamy is not the only one whom the Congress nurtured, developed and then dumped. The neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is a case in point. Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late former chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy, has beaten the Congress to pulp. Ironically, Mr Reddy has no individual reputation. It is all borrowed glory of his father. YSR was the Congress's sheet anchor in Andhra Pradesh and his popularity as chief minister was only during the Congress regime. By not striking a deal with his son and widow, the Congress dug the grave for itself in the Andhra Pradesh byelections. The overriding issue was Cuddapah pride. In Kerala, the Congress should have been back in power comfortably going by the Malayalis' penchant for shuffling the government every term. But Congress leader Rahul Gandhi challenged the Kerala voters on whether they wanted 90-year-old Achuthanandan as chief minister. Mr Gandhi forgot that his own ally in Kerala, K.R. Gowriamma, contesting the elections was already 90. Kerala's electorate, comprising mostly middle-age and old-age groups, did not like Mr Gandhi's comments at all. Instead of a comfortable win, the Congress has ended up with a narrow victory. Mr Gandhi's youth brigade lost everywhere. This was mainly because he has not understood the dynamics of party politics. He had been trying to run a parallel party within the party based on different norms. Power remained with the old guard, while the young blood refused to serve as their minions. The disconnect was so severe that in Tamil Nadu the Youth Congress demonstrated against its own party president and complained against him to the Election Commission. The major gain in this election from a social perspective is the strengthening of democracy and the weakening of partisan casteist groups. The Paattali Makkal Katchi, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the Kongu party all with apparent caste followings could not deliver at all in Tamil Nadu. When a massive issue like corruption that affects all people irrespective of caste became the dominant discourse, the caste equations weakened. The above 80 per cent turnout has strengthened democracy and the credit entirely goes to the EC that introduced voter slips for quick, easy and hassle-free voting and its no-holds-barred action against the use of money power that created hope in the minds of people that the elections would be fair. Both the DMK and the Congress are at crossroads now. Sonia Gandhi's greeting to Ms Jayalalithaa may signal shift in alliances, but the Congress can gain in Tamil Nadu only by working for a third alternative in the long run. The DMK will have to clear its cobwebs of nepotism and go back to its founding days when its inner party democracy was vibrant. And the message from the people is clear for Ms Jayalalithaa too. We won't tolerate abuse of power and massive corruption even if you cheat us with freebies. * Gnani Sankaran is a Tamil writer, theatreperson and filmmaker






Watching the Arab uprisings these days leaves me with a smile on my face and a pit in my stomach. The smile comes from witnessing a whole swath of humanity losing its fear and regaining its dignity. The pit comes from a rising worry that the Arab Spring may have been both inevitable and too late. If you are not feeling both these impulses, you're not paying attention. The smile? A Libyan friend remarked to me the other day that he was watching Arab satellite TV out of Benghazi, Libya, and a sign held aloft at one demonstration caught his eye. It said in Arabic: "Ana Rajul" — which translates to "I am a man". If there is one sign that sums up the whole Arab uprising, it's that one. As I've tried to argue, this uprising, at root, is not political. It's existential. It is much more Albert Camus than Che Guevara. All these Arab regimes to one degree or another stripped their people of their basic dignity. They deprived them of freedom and never allowed them to develop anywhere near their full potential. And as the world has become hyper-connected, it became obvious to every Arab citizen just how far behind they were — not only to the West, but to China, India and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. This combination of being treated as children by their autocrats and as backward by the rest of the world fuelled a deep humiliation, which shows up in signs like that one in Libya, announcing to no one in particular: "I am a man" — I have value, I have aspirations, I want the rights everyone else in the world has. And because so many Arabs share these feelings, this Arab Spring is not going to end — no matter how many people these regimes kill. It is novelists, not political scientists, who can best articulate this mood. Raymond Stock, who teaches Arabic at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, is writing a biography of the Egyptian Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. In an essay published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Stock pointed out how Mahfouz foreshadowed so many of the feelings driving the Arab Spring in his novel Before the Throne. There, Mahfouz puts in the mouth of a rebel firebrand, defending his revolution against the pharaoh, words that could have been heard on any afternoon in Tahrir Square this year: "We have endured agonies beyond what any human can bear. When our ferocious anger was raised against the rottenness of oppression and darkness, our revolt was called chaos, and we were called mere thieves. Yet it was nothing but a revolution against despotism, blessed by the gods". But that also explains that pit in the stomach. These Arab regimes have been determined to prevent any civil society or progressive parties from emerging under their rule. So when these regimes break at the top, the elevator goes from the palace straight to the mosque. There is nothing else in between — no legitimate parties or institutions. So outsiders face a cruel dilemma: Those who say America should have stood by Hosni Mubarak, or should not favour toppling Bashar al-Assad in Syria — in the name of stability — forget that their stability was built on the stagnation of millions of Arabs, while the rest of the world moved ahead. The Arab people were not offered Chinese autocratic stability: We take your freedom and give you education and a rising standard of living. Their deal was Arab autocratic stability: We take your freedom and feed you the Arab-Israeli conflict, corruption and religious obscurantism. But to embrace the downfall of these dictators — as we must — is to advocate levelling a rotten building with no assurance that it can be rebuilt. That is what happened in Iraq, and it was hugely expensive for us to rebuild a new, and still tenuous, order there. No outsider is going to do that again. So to embrace the downfall of these dictators is to hope that their own people can come together to midwife democracy in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya. But here one must honestly ask: Is the breakdown in these societies too deep for anyone to build anything decent out of? Was the Arab Spring both inevitable and too late? My answer: It's never too late, but some holes are deeper than others, and we are now seeing that the hole Arab democrats have to climb out of is really, really deep. Wish them well. Again, Stock points us to a passage in Mahfouz's Before the Throne, which is a novel in which each Egyptian leader challenges his successor. In this case, Mustafa al-Nahhas, the head of the liberal Wafd Party, which was crushed when Gamal Abdel Nasser led a military coup in 1952, berates Nasser for eroding Egypt's constitutional heritage. "Those who launched the 1919 Revolution were people of initiative and innovation in... politics, economics and culture", Nahhas tells Nasser. "How your high-handedness spoiled your most pristine depths! See how education was vitiated, how the public sector grew depraved! How your defiance of the world's powers led you to horrendous losses and shameful defeats! You never sought the benefit of another person's opinion... And what was the result? Clamour and cacophony, and an empty mythology — all heaped on a pile of rubble". By arrangement with the New York Times








Sleepless cops in UP Cops in Uttar Pradesh are having sleepless nights because of the Congress leader, Mr Rahul Gandhi's secret sojourns. Every time the media discovers that Mr Gandhi is on a secret trip — whether it is attending Youth Congress camps in Lucknow, visiting dalit homes in Shravasti, meeting stampede victims in Pratapgarh or agitating farmers in Tappal — a bunch of policemen posted in the area get suspended as punishment. One such sub-inspector in a local intelligence unit, who has faced three suspensions on account of the Congress MP's secret visits in the past two years, was recently seen pleading with a Congress leader at a wedding. "Sir, please get me posted to a place where Mr Gandhi does not come on a secret visit", he said. "One more suspension will spoil my entire career". However, the Congress leader sheepishly said that he could not help the cop since Mr Gandhi's secret visits were, in fact, a big secret. Taking the country roads All politicians are making a beeline for Bhatta Parsaul village near Greater Noida after the land stir. Those who tried to venture into the trouble-torn area included the Jat leader, Mr Ajit Singh, the Samajwadi Party leader, Mr Akhilesh Yadav and even the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mr Rajnath Singh. However, none of them were even able to reach within several kilometres of the village. They were all either detained or turned away before reaching the area. But the AICC general secretary, Mr Rahul Gandhi, was able to hoodwink everyone. Riding pillion on a motorbike, the youth leader went to the village and sat on a dharna demanding justice for the affected villagers. The UP policemen deputed to guard the borders of the village were foxed as the youth icon rode through village dirt roads to complete the journey. Pak cornered, India gracious Though the Centre has stepped up its tirade against Pakistan, accusing it of sheltering 50 of India's most wanted terrorists and criminals, senior government officials here are sympathetic to the neighbour's plight. They know that Pakistan has landed in a difficult situation after the discovery of the late Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, in that country. "It (Pakistan) has its own problems to deal with", said a senior official. "It has difficult questions to answer. We should be thanking our stars that Osama was not hiding in any obscure town of Uttar Pradesh or some other state in India". Not to forget that the Pakistani American Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operative, David Headley, had coolly visited New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and other cities prior to the 26/11 terror attacks. Mamata has the last word THE Trinamul Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, belongs to a different breed of leaders that TV interviewers are not accustomed to. One anchor asked her what her thoughts were when she first heard of her margin of victory, who she spoke to, or did she have her mother in mind, as though she was a Hollywood star getting an Oscar. Ms Banerjee shot back that it was the people's victory and she thought of the people and thanked them. But her best snub was reserved for that worn out cliché about a victory for women since she and the AIADMK chief, Ms Jayalalithaa, had won. Irritated by this, she said she does not think of herself as a woman leader. "Men and women should work together as equals", she said. Free for all in Bhopal A section of the media reported in Bhopal last week that the DGCA had brought under its scanner the Madhya Pradesh aviation department following the death of the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, Dorjee Khandu, in an air crash recently. It was reported that the DGCA took possession of the log books to study flight details and scrutinise the profile of passengers who have flown in these aircraft. However, the DGCA authorities in Bhopal were quick to issue a rejoinder saying nothing of this sort has happened. Despite this, the use of aircraft continues to be a burning topic of discussion in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy in Bhopal. They take off at the drop of a hat not just for the state ministers and ruling party bigwigs but also for senior officers and their families and friends. Ice melts in Rajasthan THE Rajasthan chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot and Leader of the Opposition, Ms Vasundhara Raje, never miss any opportunity to lash out at each other. Even when the two appear together in public functions, the courtesy is limited to exchanging curt greetings. However, now there are signs of the ice melting. Recently, Ms Raje greeted Mr Gehlot on his birthday. The greeting came after an intense war of words between the two. Mr Gehlot also mentioned his good relationship with the late Madhavrao Scindia and said that he considers Ms Raje as his sister. We wonder how long this amity would last.






While Ms Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa celebrate their famous victories, of greater long-term importance is the future of the Communist movement in India. The relatively good showing of the CPI(M) in Kerala, despite its narrow defeat, is a peculiar local and regional phenomenon and the trumping of personality in the shape of Mr V.S. Achuthanandan over ideology. But the devastating defeat of the Marxists in West Bengal after 34 years of uninterrupted rule represents a landmark in Communism's life in the country. The CPI(M) in West Bengal has been living on its initial spate of land reforms in the countryside, the merging of party functionaries with administrative responsibilities and the thuggish power of its cadres. The party's leadership has been living in a bubble, still worshipping the icons of a past Communist era and straddling the two worlds of the peasantry and bhadralok (an untranslatable world, connoting genteelness and upper-class attitude) culture. It needed a street fighter in the person of Mamata to break this Communist formulation of success. But in ideological terms, the tragedy of the CPI(M) has been that it ceased growing up for decades. The last time ideology counted in the party was when the movement split after the Soviet Union and China went their separate ways in 1964, with the Marxists leaning towards China and the CPI remaining loyal to Moscow. It is remarkable that for 47 years the world of the Indian Marxists is unchanged. Stalin remains in the pantheon of Communist gods. The vocabulary of the Marxists is touchingly familiar with its traditional panoply of Communist gods and demons although the pro-Chinese proclivities of the Marxists have abated somewhat. While the overwhelming segment of the old Communist world has undergone a sea change, Indian Marxists have remained wedded to a simple era of certainties. It is as if the Berlin Wall had not fallen, the Soviet Union had not broken up and Marx still remained supreme in the Communists' definition of world phenomena. Stalin remains an icon in the Indian Marxists' vocabulary, and although the Chinese successfully stood Communist ideology on its head to take a capitalist path while mouthing old ideological formulations to maintain a one-party state, India's Marxists, largely confined to one major state and a participant in a melange of parties in Kerala, have never felt the need to grow up. Yet the Mamata hurricane now poses uncomfortable questions for the Indian Marxists if they wish to remain relevant to the country's future. They cannot follow the Chinese model of marrying capitalism with a version of dictatorship because their ruling the whole country is a pipedream. And in an era in which old certainties have lost their meaning in a technological interconnected world, India's Communists seem to have no clue on how to chart their future policies. The Indian Marxists' pro-Chinese proclivities have taken them nowhere and while they are promising to introspect, the old leaders remain blinkered and a new generation of Communists is yet to wrest leadership positions. The imitative streak is strong in the Indian psyche. Nothing caused the old generation of Indian Communists as much pain as the split in the world Communist movement. They chose either Moscow or Beijing and are now left behind as the rest of the world has changed. Living as I was in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s, I discovered how most Soviets made their peace with Communist ideology by disregarding it while mouthing the clichés and taking a pragmatic view of life and the state. Having gained power only in two or three states in the best of times, India's Marxists have never learned to think beyond familiar clichés. A telling reminder of the Marxists' predicament was that the most striking recent people's movement was launched not by a Communist leader or party but by a man in the Gandhian tradition — Anna Hazare. The space once occupied by the Communists has been taken over by the Maoists and other extreme factions of tribals. The Indian Communists' decision to fight for their vision within the confines of a democratic system paid dividends for a time in empowering them to rule one or more states, but in ideological terms they were at a dead-end. The Marxists, with their junior partner, the CPI, essentially became regional parties governed by the laws of regional fluctuations. It has been aptly said that the last Englishman is to be found in India. Similarly, the last old-style Communist will be discovered here. There is little reason to hope that the introspection promised by the Marxists and the CPI will yield anything but clichés. The old Communists cannot change in the autumn of their lives. Stalin remains their deity as does the old pantheons of leaders who proverbially shook the world in 10 days. Concepts such as "dictatorship of the proletariat" are etched on their memory and secretive decision-making at the highest level is their norm. What then can we expect from the Marxists' rout in West Bengal? The alternative for the CPI and CPI(M) is stark. They will either reinvent themselves as one or more modern Left parties or face irrelevance. There is room for vigorous moderate Left parties in a country of great inequities and problems. Thus far, in the Indian Communists' attempt at coexistence with bourgeois parties, they have ceded the opposition space to people's movements led by Medha Patkar or other regional ad hoc groups. It is as if the old Communist formulations have taken over the CPI and CPI(M), dulling their capacity to break out of the mould. It will take a bold new leader not on the horizon today to show Indian Communists the light, failing which the Left space will be occupied by other, more modern, leaders.







Buddha Purnima is the most important annual Buddhist festival. It is also a unique event as the same day represents three significant milestones in the life of the Buddha. It is a belief that Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and passed away from this world all on this same date. Buddha Purnima falls on the full moon night in the month of Vaisakhi as per the Hindu calendar, which is usually in the month of April or May as per the Western calendar (May 17 is the date this year). The main sites associated with these historic events witness special prayers and pilgrimages by devotees to mark the occasion. These include the birthplace of Gautam Buddha in Lumbini. The biggest centre of activity is Bodh Gaya with the famed Bodhi tree under which the Buddha is said to have meditated, which led to his enlightenment on Buddha Purnima. And lastly, Kushinagar where the Buddha attained mahaparinirvana when he turned 80 and left his bodily form. It is interesting to note that like the Buddha, some other well-known saints and Masters were also born on a full moon night like Guru Nanak and Maharishi Valamiki. A metaphoric interpretation may be made of this lunar association to convey the larger message of these spiritual leaders. The waxing and waning of the moon can be taken to symbolise the personal journey of an individual in the physical and spiritual realm that actually represents a full circle. We can consider it to be a circle of fullness or total emptiness. We begin from nothing at birth, move to fullness at prime of life and then dissolve into nothingness at the time of death. It refreshes our memory about the impermanent nature of substances and the interchangeability of all matter. What appears as end of one type of existence is only change of form as put forth by scientific explanations of constant flux in the field of energy. Very much like the way we see the moon on a daily basis, which appears different to our naked eyes on different days. The moon seems to be ever increasing or decreasing in size. But in reality, we know its size is fixed. It only appears different due to an optical illusion based on the pattern of solar reflection. Even on a night of first moon, the moon exists but is just out of our vision. The monthly lunar trajectory is a good periodic reminder of our own evolution from cipher at time of birth to fullness at prime and back to nihility in the end. This realisation comes from deep self-awareness and meditative introspection. It is both a means and an end to experiencing the "Buddha nature" which is the core of our internal being. On the occasion of Buddha Purnima, let us appreciate this message of completeness or Pooranta which can be discovered by connecting with the seed of Buddha consciousness nascent in each one of us. — Poonam Srivastava has published a book of Zen poetry titled, A Moment for the Mind, which expounds on the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. She is also involved in popularising new ideas of change in the social sector. She can be contacted at









DESPERATE situations demand desperate remedies. Who can deny that UPA-II flounders in dire, scam-roiled straits? Hence setting up a ministerial team to contain the damage by winning over ~ no, not the hearts and minds of a dejected, disappointed citizenry ~ the media: sections of which are so willingly "swayed". Not surprisingly, a couple of proven, smooth, spin doctors like P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal are among those drafted for what could prove a Herculean labour. The opening foray was only marginally successful. Yet the reality remains, despite what all the media managers (manipulators?) might claim, there can be no getting away from the punch-line of the old saying: "you can't fool all the people all the time". In other words, no matter how clever the sarkari spokespersons may be when briefing the media their most potent weapon will ever be clean, competent governance. That is where the real "deficit" exists: it is so easy to lay the blame on the media (as Indira Gandhi did during the Emergency) for strong public resentment over rampant graft, and myriad other shortcomings. Disproving what makes the negative headlines will call for marshalling hard facts: not hollow, if articulate, offerings from those spokespersons. Merely pointing accusing fingers at Opposition parties will not suffice. That strategy failed when the government entrusted its defence to uninformed party spokespersons who consistently invited ridicule.

Sure there is need for the government to establish a communication channel, it is fully entitled to present its own versions of events. Yet, on reflection, the need to draft ministers only confirms the cynical bypassing (by extra-smart ministers and know-all bureaucrats) of an established machinery that had actually stood the test of time ~ the Press Information Bureau. Over the years its information officers have been reduced to arranging TV crew to follow ministers, or "chairing" media interactions. Only routine information is disseminated via that route. While it might now be futile to dwell on the competent functioning of that organisation of yesteryear, it would be unfair not to note that despite the battering and neglect many of its staffers have upheld one healthy tradition ~ resisting the PIB platform being hijacked for political propaganda. Maybe that is the reason why it has been sidelined: today's ministers are too "small" to distinguish between the official, the political and the personal. Unless the newly constituted team of spin doctors "rises above", the UPA-II image will remain what was made of it by the likes of Raja, Praful Patel, Kalmadi et al.




SCREAMING "we told you so" has ever been alien to this newspaper's ethos and traditions. It is, however, difficult not to lament that a caution to speedily resolve the controversy over the year of birth of the army chief was ignored: and is now in danger of snowballing beyond defence circles. A rash of media reports, some possibly slanted or motivated, have appeared; conflicting are the accounts of the government's responses to RTI petitions; even versions of what are purported to be "undertakings" submitted by Gen VK Singh have done the rounds. An obviously fake birth certificate has been circulated by someone who a police inquiry found to be untraceable, possibly fictitious. If that were not bad enough a communal element has been injected by a former head of the National Minorities Commission: he has demanded the chief retire next year so that nothing impedes Lt Gen Bikram Singh, currently heading Eastern Command, picking up a fourth star. The same "gentleman" ~ perhaps little aware of the noble martial traditions of his community ~ had previously pressed for Gen JJ Singh (now Governor of Arunachal Pradesh) to be promoted as chief. There is every danger of the matter ~ since it affects the chain of succession ~ getting dragged into the muck that now passes for politics. Nothing is sacrosanct for today's netas. The only relevant response from the defence ministry is that the opinion of the Attorney-General is being sought ~ to resolve a difficulty arising from a discrepancy in the records of different wings of the huge bureaucracy into which Army Headquarters has degenerated. This is spineless buck-passing.
What the national "high command" appears to be oblivious of is the impact this festering sore will have on the military. Controversies over the top appointment ~ be it Raina superseding Rawlley, Vaidya being preferred to Sinha, or the Ramdass-Jain fiasco in the Navy that threw up big trouble in the shape of Vishnu Bhagwat ~ had so damaged the forces that it took decades for the heartburn to end. Regretfully, the past few Army chiefs have earned limited admiration, now governmental dithering risks the incumbent being included in the same bracket.  However, Gen VK Singh and potential successors in 2012 or 2013 are only bit players in the larger tragedy being scripted. The prestige of the office of the Chief of the Army Staff is being compromised.




IT MAY be some time before the world reaches a consensus on conserving the Earth and protecting the environment. Historian AJP Taylor had famously recounted the struggle for the mastery of Europe. A decade into the 21st, last Thursday's meeting of the eight Arctic countries suggests that a struggle for the mastery of Greenland is almost certainly on the cards. It is all too obvious that at stake are the riches of the world's least explored regions, most importantly the resources beneath its freezing waters. Any transnational interaction gets focused when enlightened self-interest is involved. So it was in Greenland, if not in the environmental powwow in Copenhagen and more recently in Cancun. The dominant impression over the past few years that America seeks the eventual independence of Greenland ~ now a protectorate of Denmark ~ has been reinforced with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presence at the conference. Washington is proceeding on the assumption that an independent status will strengthen its standing in the region, however inhospitable. That urgency appears to have become still more compelling after a Russian expedition planted the titanium Russian tricolour on the North Pole in 2007. Indeed, Greenland has now aroused the interest of as many as eight nations not least because of the gradual melting of the polar ice caps. There is general anxiety to protect the resources of the region and reverse the climate change, notably in the wake of an international survey's prediction that the world's sea levels could rise to 1.6 metres over the next 90 years.

Predictably, the competitiveness that marks interest in Greenland has been deprecated by environmentalists of the Greenpeace brigade. And they have cited remarkably cogent reasons for their reservations. The underpinning ought to be the long-term issue of climate change ~ of far greater moment than the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves that are set to trigger a bout of jousting. The countries belong to the Earth, and decidedly economic interests ought not to get precedence over such dire imperatives as climate control and conservation of the environment.









THE principle of  'separation of powers' is a striking feature of  all modern constitutions.  Jurists have cautioned against the temptation by one organ to set right perceived wrongs by other coordinates of the State. Roscoe Pound is regarded as one of the greatest jurists of the 20th century, the "father of sociological jurisprudence". He has criticized 'judicial administration' as seriously as 'administrative adjudication': "Looking at the US (judicial) system as a whole, the conspicuous defects are waste of judicial power, waste of time and money of litigants and public time and money."

Another issue of administrative jurisprudence needs urgently to be addressed. The court has taken cognizance of the case under Article 32 on a PIL by some well-known "professionals". There is no allegation of any violation of Fundamental Rights. A public servant should not be indicted merely on the basis of a chargesheet. It must be submitted with respect that a chargesheet is not evidence. This is a basic principle of law.

The court has essentially reviewed an executive appointment. It has held the executive accountable to it even when there does not appear to be any illegality in the case. Proper procedure was followed and the selection was done by the highest executive, by a majority decision. The candidate was duly qualified under the relevant rules. Had there been an illegality, the executive would have been fully answerable to a court of law.

Justice PB Mukharji, Barrister and former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court and an authority on constitutional matters had once examined the issue of judicial review of executive decisions. In his Tagore Law Lectures, he said it is justified so long as it is restricted to three issues. First, it is ultra vires the Constitution. Second, it is against the principles of natural justice. Third, there is a grave error of law apparent on the face of the record. On the facts of the case, none of these criteria appears to apply.

A political controversy has been generated over the CVC's appointment. But such issues are best settled in Parliament. Late Justice H.R. Khanna, one of the greatest jurists of independent India to adorn the highest court, has put it famously: "Judiciary is not in a position to provide solution for any and every problem although human ingenuity would not be lacking to give it some kind of shape or semblance of a legal or constitutional issue. When other agencies or wings of the State overstep their limits, the aggrieved parties can always approach the courts and seek redress against such transgression. When, however, the courts themselves are guilty of such transgression, to which forum would the aggrieved parties appeal?"

In a parliamentary democracy, the executive is accountable to the legislature for all its administrative sins of omission and commission. If the executive is to be accountable to the judiciary as well, then Parliament would be rendered largely redundant.

The practice of moving a PIL had begun  on a healthy note. The court entertained grievances from those disadvantaged sections of the populace who could not afford the expensive process of litigation. It is no longer so. Vested interests and self-seekers have largely twisted it into a means of self-promotion. Yet there is hope for civil society.  Eminent members of the judiciary and noted jurists have themselves seen through the stratagem.
According to the late Dr LM Singhvi, Bar-at-Law: "PIL is now being used by vested interests, political opponents, lawyer-politicians and publicity hunters as bona fide public-spirited men". The former Chief Justice of India, Dr AS Anand, once  cautioned: "Care has to be taken to see that the PIL remains a public interest litigation and does not become either political or personal or publicity interest litigation or used for persecution". The time has come to heed such warnings.

The CVC's appointment has been quashed in order to protect what has been termed as "institutional integrity" of an important body (under the executive). Undeniably, the CVC is an important institution. So too are a host of others ~ the Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, the Union Public Service Commission, TRAI and the numerous regulators. Though theoretically autonomous, these entities are  manned by senior civil servants appointed by the executive. If the present judgment were to become a precedent, this would virtually grant a veto power to the judiciary to vet all executive appointments.

The phrase "institutional integrity" is a novel concept in administrative jurisprudence. It is not clear if all institutions under the executive would be subject to judicial scrutiny. The expression is somewhat inaccurate and can be misinterpreted by vested interests. It could possibly be misused to settle political scores. In terms of the basic norms of parliamentary democracy, the executive should continue to be accountable to Parliament for the integrity of all institutions under its charge.

The institutional integrity of the judiciary is open to question. On a parity of reasoning and to maintain the independence of the judiciary, it must continue to be exclusively responsible for maintaining its own institutional integrity. Although a Judges' Accountability Bill is said to be  under consideration, any role by members of the other two organs of the State would dilute the 'independence of the judiciary', another feature of the 'basic structure' doctrine.

Another aspect of administrative jurisprudence needs to be addressed. If executive appointments are going to be subjected to judicial scrutiny, it would necessarily imply that an 'integrity certificate' would be needed from the judiciary. Such a situation would be neither legally sound nor administratively correct.

Members of the permanent executive throughout their official career serve under the ruling political executive and not under the judiciary. The former alone can be the sole judge, so to speak, of the suitability and probity of the civil servants, to be able to pick the right officer for the right job. The judiciary is in no position to assess the integrity of the members of the executive, nor is it equipped to 'judge' such administrative matters.
Sir Ivor Jennings in his commentary on the  Constitution made another observation with great prescience. He anticipated, as it were, the celebrated Keshvananda Bharati case ruling almost a quarter century before it was formally pronounced by the Supreme Court in 1973: "The English constitutional lawyer's (jurist's) emphasis is upon institutions rather than on legal principles."

The Supreme Court, in an act of extraordinary judicial statesmanship has in a separate judgment ruled that in certain circumstances a curative petition would lie against its own orders. It would be desirable to move such a petition for a review of the aforesaid ruling.







The Tamil Nadu assembly polls can no longer be referred to derisively as the "mixer-grinder" elections they were supposed to be. The decisiveness of the verdict, the scale of the defeat and the grandness of the victory take this election out of the pale of trivia. All across the state, the people of Tamil Nadu have voted concertedly to bundle out the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front, throwing into disarray its calculated poll arithmetic and its freebie politics. The DMK had depended on its alliance with caste-based parties such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam, among others, to take on the formidable coalition worked out by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on poll eve. It relied on the Congress to retain the urban vote and the vote in regions that traditionally voted for the Congress. The DMK also believed that its welfare measures and the lure of freebies would be sufficient to overcome the taint of corruption. It has been proven wrong. The poll arithmetic of its political opponents was not only far more accurate, but the electorate was also less gullible than it was presumed to be. The DMK-Congress front has been decimated in Tamil Nadu under the combined onslaught of the anti-incumbency factor and the shrill anti-corruption rhetoric of its rivals that it could not deflect because of the pressure built up by the 2G spectrum scandal.

The sweeping victory of the AIADMK, which now commands a majority to form a government on its own, once again shows that the people of Tamil Nadu are yet to find an alternative to the two major Dravida parties. The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, so crucial to the victory of the AIADMK, has further strengthened its political standing, but given that it has scaled down its political ambitions and declined to lay claim on power, it may now play a part no better than the Congress in the state — that of the third party and kingmaker. Yet, Tamil Nadu needs a strong Opposition today like never before. Politics in the state has often been reduced to a vindictive interplay between the two main Dravida parties. The stupendous mandate that J. Jayalalithaa has got should be used responsibly for the people and not to target specific parties and individuals.






Electoral politics may have much to do with the mass popularity of leaders, but governance is about policies and administrative efficiency. The popularity of the outgoing chief minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, and his clean image helped the Communist Party of India (Marxist) avert the kind of humiliating defeat in Kerala that the party suffered in West Bengal. If the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front came so close to beating the electoral tradition in the state and returning to power, it was largely due to the 87-year-old communist leader's personal popularity. This was especially remarkable because Mr Achuthanandan had been running a long factional battle against Pinarayi Vijayan, the secretary of the state unit of the CPI(M). But it would be wrong to stress the individual appeal of a politician in matters of governance beyond a point. For all his crusade against corruption, Mr Achuthanandan seems to belong to the past. He is shackled to ideas and values that even his comrades in Kerala have long outgrown. He seems to cling to old-world notions of the supposed merits of a socialist economy. His views on capital and private enterprise smack of the ideology that has long been dead even in the former socialist countries, including the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The end of Mr Achunthanandan's term is thus not something that the people of Kerala are going to miss much. If anything, it will open the state's door to new infusion of capital and new thinking on modernizing Kerala's economy. True, the win is too narrow to make it comfortable for the Congress-led United Democratic Front. But the real danger is neither the slender victory nor the pressure that the Congress's partners may put on it regarding the sharing of ministries or other issues. Both the Left and the Congress have long been used to the pulls and pressures of coalition politics. The real test for the Congress is to go beyond populist politics and embrace bold, imaginative policies. Distributing rice to the poor at Rs 2 a kilogram may be good electoral strategy. But the question that the new government has to ask itself is why, and for how long, this political economy of doles should continue. This is particularly sad for a state whose people form one of the most successful diasporas of Indians in the world. Kerala's record in several development indicators such as literacy and health has long been among the best in India. It is time its rulers took fresh initiatives to usher in a new, technology-driven economy that will improve the quality of the people's lives.






"Close, very close" is how the DMK- AIADMK pre-election strengths were described over March, April. "But has not the 2G business turned the people away from the DMK?"

"Oh no, that is your reaction and mine, not that of the rural voter. He wants his roads, his power connection, his diesel, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, his PDS rations. He is not bothered about corruption and integrity."

A few weeks before voting day, the narrative was mildly qualified.

"It still remains close but she now has an edge."

A few days before voting, this thesis was again reversed. "The AIADMK's edge is gone. DMK has made a solid recovery. The DMK+Congress formula is working like never before."

Three days ahead of the count, pollsters chose caution. The AIADMK's edge, most exit/opinion polls maintain, has not really gone. It is still there, they say. Modest, but there.

By 8.30 on the morning of Friday the 13th, that edge, band, rim began to stir. By 9 am, it had lurched forward. By 9.30 am, the edge had grown into a band, the band into a broad margin, so broad that it outran the coast, the sandbanks, outstripped the hinterland. It became, in fact, the field.

J. Jayalalithaa, the general secretary of the AIADMK, won the 2011 elections to the Tamil Nadu assembly emphatically. She won, on her own, 150 seats in the House of 234 and her Front, 203. The DMK Front got 31 seats, and the Congress, unbelievably, just five.

The stunned analysts retrieved their ground. Has not, after all, Tamil Nadu nearly always alternated its governments Kerala-style? So it has. Was that not bound to happen, then, this time too ? Perhaps, yes.

And yet, this was no routine alternation, no simple 'meant to happen' win. Changing, rhythmically, an incumbent does not bring out the highest voter turnout, ever, in Tamil Nadu's history.

When a change decimates what it changes, it does more than change.

It castigates as it replaces.

The handsome victory of the veteran, M. Karunanidhi himself, is a felicity and carries the grace of personal courtesy deserved and observed.

A whole political style, not just a party, has been adjudged, a method and a mode of governance has been pronounced on by the voter's silent determination to 'teach a lesson' to wrongdoing.

Silent determination?

Silent, because no one, pollsters using 'wide, representative samples' included, had failed to scent the verdict. Determination, because a collectivity of voters spread across 234 constituencies voting with this kind of congruence can only be called focused, directioned and resolute.

Analysts will debate on the apportionings — corruption, nepotism, price rise, the tradition of Kerala-style alternation. But conversation with any voter in Tamil Nadu will show that though the verdict has had many components in it, if the verdict has carried castigation in it, that castigation has been of corruption. Not so much of the fact of corruption, as of its scale and of its closely held character.


Four ambient circumstances around corruption have made the Tamil Nadu voter respond so emphatically, boldly, albeit silently: one, the gaze of the law over corruption; two, the scrutiny of the media on corruption; three, the 'Hazare effect'; four, the availability of a political alternative.

In addition to these four circumstances, there was a fifth factor, connected to the volume of things, the principle of alavu. That three- syllabled Tamil word means, simply, 'proportion', 'scale', or 'measure'. A society which measures its precious paddy off a threshing floor, or out of a rice-mill, and its valuable rice off a retail store and into its cooking pot in simple but clear measures (with dedicated measuring-vessels for each exercise) knows what alavu means. The 2G scam and alavu do not go together.

Acting over and through these four circumstances and the fifth realization, was the hurt pride of a people, tremendously intelligent and inherently law-abiding, at being seen as condoning corruption, even complicit in it, vulnerable to manipulation, ready to barter political judgment for grinders, mixies and television sets. This was a typification no self-respecting people, much less a people who have given so much to the Self-respect Movement led by Periyar, could have accepted, especially not at a time when elections were giving them a chance to show themselves to be otherwise.

Silently, determinedly, emphatically.

Hereafter they may not wait for a particular scale to be reached or a point of tolerance to be crossed. They will identify the culprit on sight. And they will be helped there by the four circumstances which have come to stay.

May 13, 2011, marks for Tamil Nadu not the end of a regime as much as the beginning of a new courageous self-confidence about tackling corruption and political wrongdoing — which at the minimum is wholesome and at the maximum, admirable.

The AIADMK under J. Jayalalithaa's new term in office will have its priorities. She has already spelt out the "restoration of law and order" and "financial and fiscal reconstruction" as items topping her agenda. Those deserve that ranking. One assumes that probity and transparency in government will also, axiomatically in fact, receive the same quality ranking. Openness to the RTI Act, and the sensitivity to serious ecological concerns in Tamil Nadu that she has already shown, will bring her government credit.

There is something else to be mindful about.

For many years now the social dynamics of Periyar-inspired reform have been overlaid by political rivalry, verbal overreach and doctrinaire repetitiousness. Offspring that it is of the hoary Dravidian Movement, the new government has an opportunity now to take the dynamics of 'Dravidian' social reform forward into a new phase of policies that carry pride in the Tamil language's classical uniqueness into joy in Tamil Nadu's post-classical saliences. It has the opportunity to give a new meaning to the 'Tamil cause' by de-twinning Tamil uplift from builder-contractor lobbies and quick-fix education solutions. It has the opportunity to harness Tamil uplift to truly modern educational and development models that are pedagogically serious, ecologically intelligent and technologically visionary. And it has a mandate amounting to an obligation to use Tamil Nadu's resources, including human resources, with due regard for quality, with respect for probity and with restraint .

There is something to be done by Tamil Nadu beyond Tamil Nadu as well.

And that is to increase the availability to national politics of Tamil Nadu's special political acumen and expertise.

Tamil Nadu has and knows it all. It borders Sri Lanka and copes with licit and illegal migrants from across the shores, knows fishermen's woes on a sea that has no visible boundaries, and farmers' woes with river waters that have boundaries, it has a coastline mangled by the tsunami of 2004, is chronically rain-starved and power-deficient, holds forests and mines, hosts nuclear reactors and giant industries, has formidably prestigious universities as well as fraudulent degree-dishing outfits. Such a state can and must advise the whole nation on issues ranging from national security to the use and abuse of land and water resources and the erosion of our coasts, from the profligacy of India's own 'First World' which resists altering manufacturing priorities and processes to accord with the imperatives of climate change to the dangerous imponderables of nuclear energy, from the debilitation of farm life which yet manages, from out of its multiple crises, to produce more grain than we can store to the fall in educational standards which threatens to throw our demographic dividend into a dejected decade.

India deserves the Tamil Nadu that used to give to itself and to the nation, not all that long ago, mature administrators, wise statesmen. It used to offer valuable perspectives, guidance and leadership. The kind that R.K. Shanmukham Chetty and N. Gopalasawami Ayyangar, Rajaji and Kamaraj, TTK and C.N. Annadurai, C. Subramaniam and R. Venkataraman, K. Santhanam and P. Subbarayan made available. The country deserves and awaits from Tamil Nadu a transfusion of some of that quality, that calibre, in the tone of discussions and action on the many critical issues imperilling our future, not preoccupation with scams and scandals.

If Tamil Nadu's new and very wide 'edge' in national affairs can return to giving us that, it will restore the country's traditional confidence in its Southern bulwark.






"I'd grown up with the assumption that Scotland was a poor, wee, deprived place that had never had a fair kick of the ball and could certainly never stand on its own two feet," said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, whose goal is an independent Scotland. He certainly doesn't believe that now — and the SNP finally won a majority in the Scottish parliament in the elections in May.

Salmond first formed a government four years ago, but that was a weak coalition in which the SNP had to bargain and compromise with the other parties. This time, with 69 out of 129 seats, Salmond doesn't have to haggle. He can carry out his election promises, which include a referendum on Scottish independence. If the voters said yes, that would be the end of the United Kingdom, the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England. Other things being equal, a majority of Scots might well vote for independence, but other things never are equal.

In the real world, many Scots are afraid that their small country would be too vulnerable to the financial and strategic storms that shake the world. Opinion polls consistently show that no more than a quarter to a third of Scottish voters would vote yes in an independence referendum. Yet they voted the SNP into power. Why? Since Salmond has been canny enough to promise a referendum, they knew that they could vote yes to an SNP government, and then say no to independence. He delivered sound governance in difficult circumstances over the past four years; why not give him another go?

The reality is that Salmond is unlikely to persuade the Scots to vote yes in his promised referendum, even if he postpones it until near the end of his term in the hope that he can cajole or manipulate more of them into backing independence. So there shouldn't be any big changes in Scotland as a result of this election — and yet it may hurt the country a lot in the end.

Real danger

The real danger is what would happen to Scotland if the separatists lose the forthcoming referendum but keep on trying. That's what happened in Quebec, where the separatists first came to the fore politically in the 1960s. They held and lost two referendums, but for half a century, the prospect that there would eventually be a referendum on separation from Canada was there every year.

"Planning blight" is what happens when the word gets out that they may be running a freeway through the neighbourhood, and property values and new investment collapse. Quebec had it on a province-wide scale for half a century. It's impossible to calculate the financial cost directly, but the population numbers are a good indication of what happened. For the first half of the 20th century, Quebec and Ontario, the two biggest Canadian provinces, had about the same population and grew at about the same rate. By 2010, Quebec had only grown to 7.8 million, while Ontario had 13 million people. The contrast is equally dramatic for the big cities. Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec, had always been Canada's biggest city. In 1960, Montreal had 2.2 million people, and Toronto, the capital of Ontario, had only 1.7 million. Now Toronto has 6 million people, while Montreal has only 3.8 million. It was the planning blight of the ever-looming next referendum on independence that did this to Quebec. The same thing could happen to Scotland.

Independence for Scotland would not necessarily be a financial and demographic disaster, but the permanent expectation of another independence referendum certainly would be. Yet Salmond has now put an independence referendum firmly on the Scottish political agenda, and it is unlikely to go away again in the foreseeable future even if he loses this one.


******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD




The results from West Bengal were the most looked forward to among the states that went to the polls in April and May, and they proved to be the most exciting and dramatic. The historic dimension of the electoral change has been recorded and recognised. While the victory of the Trinamool Congress was expected, it is doubtful if its magnitude had been foreseen. The Left Front was reduced in size from 283 in the last assembly to 62 now and the strength of the Trinamool Congress alliance went up from 51 to 227. That was nothing short of a revolution through the ballot box.

Bengal was waiting for the change as it had been stuck in a political and economic cul-de-sac for long. Long and unchallenged power had led the CPM-led Left Front to lose touch with the people. The state, once among the country's most industrialised states, fell to the bottom rung during the Left Front rule.

When the Front woke up, it got embroiled in the issue of farmers' land, as in Singur and Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee's identification with the farmers' cause gave her the opening that was needed to break into the Left citadel. It also gave the trigger for all disillusionment with the government and anger against it to coalesce into a movement that has now uprooted the Front from power.

However big Banerjee's accomplishment is, the greater challenge for her lies ahead. She has to prove she is as good an administrator as an agitationist. There is a possibility of political violence if the Trinamool Congress and the Left Front cadres do not make the best democratic response to victory and defeat. Bengal has seen such violence in times of political change in the past. The Trinamool's responsibility is the greater in this respect because it is the ruling party. Its leadership will have to clearly define and follow a positive agenda for the state. It is now seen as only following anti-CPM and anti-Left line.

The state is not in good financial health and might need help from the Centre. Its economic growth is among the worst  in the country. It has to promote industry and generate employment. Banerjee is bound to run into the same problems as the Left Front did, unless she has very different solutions. She has got five years to show results, but she should better count them in days.







It is futile to think that the publication by the Indian government of a list of 50 most wanted fugitives from Indian law living in Pakistan would have any impact on that country. The names have been given to Pakistan in the past but Islamabad has always denied that they were in Pakistan.  In the case of some, like Laskar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed, where a denial is not possible, Islamabad has expressed its inability to take any action.

If one of the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, was arrested, it is ensured there is no progress in the case against him. The existence of the most wanted of them all, Dawood Ibrahim, in Karachi is stoutly denied though there is overwhelming evidence of his living a public life there.  Most of those who are wanted by India for crimes committed against this country or for working against India's national security, live in Pakistan, protected by the government or its agencies.

This is no surprise because Pakistan had always denied, and continues to deny knowledge of,  the presence of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin laden in that country, in spite of the enormous US economic, political and military clout and Pakistan's dependence on the US. So, if India thought it could put pressure on Pakistan by revealing the names, it is mistaken. The US killed Osama in Pakistan through a covert armed operation.

That option is not available and may not even be advisable for India for various reasons. The very mention by Indian army chief Gen V K Singh that Indian forces are capable of conducting such an operation drew a sharp response from his Pakistani counterpart that any such action would invite a catastrophic response.

Pakistan will continue to harbour these outlaws and anti-India elements and use them as assets to hurt India as long as India-Pakistan relations remain what they are. The only use of making their names public is to remind the world of Pakistan's double talk and unfriendly conduct. Since any US-style action by India to capture any wanted person is unthinkable now, the army chief's comment was inappropriate and unnecessary. It only helped Pakistan divert the world's attention to a perceived threat from India. Military personnel should exercise restraint in their words and the recent trend among them to shoot their mouths off is unhelpful.






Congress' comfort in the elections is that BJP has been denied consolation of even false comfort.
One of the more bewildering aspects of electoral democracy is the mesmerising power of false comfort. It stretches from silly posturing to incomprehensible self-delusion, but nothing illustrates its meaninglessness better than the answer to an obvious question: what does a politician hope to achieve by denying a truth that is glaringly evident to everyone else, and will be officially confirmed within 48 or 72 hours? Nothing. Perhaps this cocoon of illusion is the last hope of the doomed, as they seek desperately to postpone the date of execution in the hope of some miraculous reprieve. God does not waste His miracles on political parties.

In the brief interim between the last ballot and counting, the Bengal CPI(M)'s state committee gathered at the party headquarters and reassured itself that it was winning at least 150 seats, or just enough to get a majority. Then they went public with this claim, in language that was hectoring, bullying and arrogant, as if they had distilled their principal character flaws into one last broadside. The state chief Biman Bose, normally the most soft-spoken of men, promised that the media would have to lick the spit they had hurled at his party after the results were known.

Other leaders turned ballistic in the tirades against their object of hatred, Mamata Banerjee, heroine of the subaltern that the Left had lost. They were crude, sexist, tasteless. But this futile rage did serve to expose precisely why the CPM has lost power in Calcutta after 34 years. The party had become so blind and numb that it neither saw nor sensed that the ground had slipped beneath its feet. Unless there is some dramatic self-correction its behaviour in defeat could cost the CPM more than the defeat itself.

The Congress exercise in false comfort is far more subtle and effective. Unlike the Bengal CPM the Congress has learnt how to handle bad news. It hides the truth behind seven veils, and you can easily end up admiring the gauze. The facts are cold. The Congress had a spectacular and well-deserved victory in one state, Assam, thanks to the splendid leadership of Tarun Gogoi, fared poorly in Kerala and was devastated in Tamil Nadu. The Kerala Left, led by the remarkable V S Achuthanandan, almost turned the tide by decimating Congress targets in the UDF alliance. The Congress won only 38 of its 82 seats, and had it not been for the state-specific Muslim League's 20 victories in the 24 seats that it contested, the Left would have formed the government in Trivandrum.

Religious consolidation

It was a consolidation of mosque and church that tipped the balance just barely towards the Congress-led UDF. In the old days a League leader Mohammad Koya would have demanded chief ministership as reward, and settled for Number 2 in the administration. But the League is now led by quieter types like E Ahamed. Perhaps Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can say thank you by promoting Ahamed to the Cabinet in his next shuffle.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress won only five out of 63 seats it contested. The facile explanation will attribute this to association with the DMK. But the Congress has done everything it could to distance itself from DMK corruption, even sending A Raja to jail. Its super-holy stance has been that neither friend nor foe would be spared.

The voter can see through gauze much more clearly than the psephologist or a journalist. The flatulent cynicism of both these tribes is such that they spread the notion that the DMK-Congress might even win because of caste arithmetic and money power. In other words, these subsidiary ruling classes argued that the Tamil voter had been corrupted, and would therefore condone DMK corruption. This patronising view was an insult to the Tamil voter, who answered the insult by wrecking the DMK-Congress alliance.

The Congress rode to 42 seats in Bengal on Mamata Banerjee's coattails, so any congratulations are misplaced. The Congress vote has declined across the country, apart from Assam. The electorate is hugely unimpressed by Rahul Gandhi's personally selected list of handpicked "youth" candidates, who were generally pulped. Achuthanandan's dismissive tag for them, of "Amul babies", will stick until they provide evidence that they have grown up. And Jagan Reddy's triumph in Andhra Pradesh is proof that the party has nowhere to hide in what used to be the party's fortress.

The one genuine bit of comfort for the Congress is the fact that its main opponent, the BJP, has been denied the consolation of even false comfort. It was minced in Assam and could not pick up a serious seat in Bengal or the South. New forces, regional and sub-regional, are rising to pick up the slack left behind by national parties. A process that accelerated in the 1990s has gathered fresh energy.

The big boys will recover, but only if they accept a basic truth: alibis are a balm, not a medicine.  








Egypt's interim government has already demonstrated a level of intolerance for free speech.

Last month, a Cairo court ordered that images of the ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and his wife, Suzanne, as well as their names, be removed from all "public squares, streets, libraries and other public institutions around the country." Posters and portraits of the Mubaraks are ubiquitous in Egypt. Squares, sports fields, libraries, streets and more than 500 schools bear their names.

This mandated erasure is meant to serve as closure for the Egyptian people after three decades of Mubarak rule. But will it help them heal and move forward? For precedent and possible implications of the ruling, we should look to antiquity. The Egyptian Book of the Dead directs those traveling to the underworld to confront the demons that guard the gates by telling them, "Make a way for me, for I know you, I know your name," before continuing on their journey to the afterlife. Names in Egyptian culture have an innate power, and can be a means of control. When the pharaoh Akhenaton tried to institute his own brand of monotheism, he had the name of the rival god Amon stricken from monuments throughout Egypt.

Destruction of images

Like gods, rulers were also vulnerable to such erasures. Queen Hatshepsut, a prolific builder who was a regent for her stepson, Thutmose III, was almost obliterated from history after he ascended the throne in the 15th century BC. Thutmose, and then his son Amenhotep II, systematically removed her image from monuments, reliefs, statues, cartouches and the official list of Egyptian rulers, perhaps in an effort to underline their own legitimacy.

Egypt wasn't alone in this. The destruction of images by government decree in the Roman world is called "damnatio memoriae." Such a decree meant that the name of the damned was scratched (oftentimes conspicuously) from inscriptions, his face chiseled from statues and the statues themselves often abused as if real persons, frescoes of his likeness painted over, his wax masks banned from being paraded in funerals, coins with his image defaced, his writings sometimes destroyed and his wills often annulled.

The practice of banning images flourished under Christianity as well, though it was used more for revenge, humiliation or the promotion of religious orthodoxy than it was for justice or catharsis. In Renaissance-era Florence, damnatio memoriae was imposed on political enemies of the Medici.

The Byzantine Church was known to remove heretics from patriarchal diptychs, and unpopular popes in the Roman Catholic Church were removed from the records by their successors. Obviously, much of this destruction failed in its purpose. Thutmose III and his son did not strike Queen Hatshepsut from the annals of history. Statues of her remained, and centuries after her death, the Egyptian historian Manetho was still able to write about the female pharaoh. Just a few years ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put many of the remaining depictions of Hatshepsut on view in an exhibition.

The history is not exactly parallel to today's Egypt. Mubarak and his wife are still living, and their images are more likely taped to walls than carved into obelisks. Nonetheless, by ordering the public removal of the Mubarak name and images, the Egyptian courts — much like Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman Senate — have set a precedent. Instead of establishing a clean slate, it may well serve to perpetuate the mistakes of the past.

It's hard not to see echoes in the new regime of Mubarak's own repressive practices. Egypt's interim government has already demonstrated a level of intolerance for free speech — for instance, by jailing the 25-year-old activist Maikel Nabil Sanad for "insulting the military establishment."

The Egyptian courts would have been better off following Claudius's example and resisting a ban on the Mubaraks' images. Instead of enforcing it, Egypt should allow individuals and institutions in possession of the former president's likeness to decide for themselves whether to keep it.

Perhaps it is best that the people of Egypt be spared this forced amnesia and be allowed to retain some memories of their former president. Erasing the crimes of the past doesn't help us avoid them in the future.






People huddled to the ubiquitous Doordarshan for their entertainment.

Those were the good old days, when we were glued to TV, sticking to one channel only, of course, no option also! No searching for remote or no quarrels over remote. Channel surfing was unheard of. There was only one channel and that was the ubiquitous Doordarshan, easily locatable with an antenna over one's roof.

If the relay was blurred or getting ghost images, going to the roof and turning the antenna was a child's play like. Just as we were enjoying "Buniyaad", "Ramayan", "Mahabharat", "Malgudi Days", we also used to enjoy the Sunday afternoon award winning regional language feature films. We had no issue as far as understanding other South Indian language films, with sub-titles in English coming to our rescue! We would eagerly await the telecast of Kannada feature films which were broadcast once in two-three months or so.

Not many advertisements, Amrutanjan being the timely one at the end, on all Sunday afternoons. And on Fridays and Saturdays, whether it was Raj Kapoor's old classics or hits of Rajesh Khanna or the superhits of 'angry young man' Amitabh Bachchan, it had a permanent place in our 'to do list' or shall we say, 'to watch list'.

Then, who can forget other programmes like the record-breaking 'Surabhi' with the 1,000 watt smile of Renuka Shahane or Pranav Roy's 'Good Evening and Welcome' in 'World this Week'? In between, there was 'Mile sur mera tumhara' sung by Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar and others, with nice clippings of Prakash Padukone, Kapil Dev, Sharmila Tagore and others.

When we were hearing just one line in Kannada, 'nanna dhanige ninna dhaniyu seridantha', we would be thrilled. I am sure people from different parts of the country have had similar feelings. There was just one programme on share market, 'Money Matters' by Shashi Kumar, that too once a week. There was no daily stock quotations, leave alone exclusive full-fledged business channels, just as we have a plethora of them today.

Now, you don't need programmes like 'World this Week'. Even before any event happens, you are bombarded with 'breaking news' from all the channels. Whether BBC or CNN-IBN flash any news or not, SMSs travel across the length and breadth of the country. The whole day, people will be busy taking all sorts of precautions like they took for swine flue or nuclear radiation.

Thereafter, such precautions gets diluted and everything is forgotten. It is like the corruption menace, thankfully, public memory is very short. Science has advanced over the years. If there is technologically advanced reusable space shuttles, we also have pundits prophesying that the world will come to an end in 2012. Though we have successfully launched 'Chandrayaan', it is the 'Big Moon' which has really scared us!

Perhaps technically we have advanced a lot but in the process we are carrying the baggage of superstitions. When we boast that we are numero uno in software development, perhaps it is the need of the hour to develop some software which will make us mentally strong. Meanwhile, it is nothing but changing times…








In May 2000, while the Israel Defense Forces was preparing for two diametrically opposite scenarios, one of which was expected to unfold in September - either a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or violent confrontation - the security zone in southern Lebanon went to pieces, with some prodding from Hezbollah. The South Lebanon Army collapsed, and Israel hastened to evacuate its soldiers to the border. Four months later, in the wake of the reverberating failure of talks with the Palestinians, the territories ignited in violence.

Though what occurred yesterday in Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights and Maroun al-Rass in Lebanon does not precisely mimic the events of 2000, similar lessons can be drawn from both incidents. Israel does not control the march of events, or the march of time. An unresolved problem will continue as a source of trouble, and explode at some particularly painful juncture. The effort to deal with the Palestinian issue as though it were separate from the northern border issue has turned out to be illusory; for its own good, rather than as an act of mercy, Israel must do its utmost (which means doing a whole lot more than what is has done up to now ) to solve the entire imbroglio.

In this respect, May 15, 2011, will be remembered as a representative date. Popular protests in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and some events on the Gaza border, were expected. In actual fact, the worst attack was carried out in Tel Aviv by an Israeli Arab, and the north heated up. To some extent, there was an intelligence failure from a tactical standpoint. The IDF Northern Command expected the main demonstrations to be held in the Quneitra area of the Golan and was surprised when demonstrators, apparently with the backing of the Syrian government, chose Majdal Shams.

IDF rules of engagement called for trespassers at the border fence in the Galilee and the Golan to be shot in the legs. Yet the gunfire here and in Lebanon left people dead. The funerals, it can be assumed, will continue to cause tension in the north, at least as long as Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have an interest in such tension.

Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian protesters timed their messages so that they would reach Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the onset of Washington's "Middle East week." Anyone who gives up on peace initiatives and leaves them to others is liable to wake up to a painful reality.







When the siren sounded in the elementary school courtyard last week, Tamar and Lin, both nine years old, were holding hands. The pupils, all wearing white shirts, stood silently. Their teachers shed tears. The teacher, Sabrine, conducted the ceremony with great emotion. At one point, they sang "Tears of Angels," and released kites. The principal quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who said that wherever people follow the principle of an eye for an eye, everyone is blind - and then added "we've decided not to be blind."

Tamar is my oldest granddaughter; Lin is an Arab girl. The two of them study at the bilingual school, Bridge Over the Wadi, in Kafr Kara, in the Wadi Ara area. Sabrine is a Palestinian-Israeli. The school's principal, Dr. Hasan Agbaria is an educator whose personality is a combination of serene cordiality, intellectual integrity and courage. This is his first year at Bridge Over the Wadi - and the first year that the school, located in the heart of an Arab village, conducted a memorial ceremony for those who fell in Israel's war with the Arabs. Agbaria has dared to do what Jewish principals before him at the school did not do before. In the past, the pupils were sent home before the siren sounded. But together with his colleagues on the staff, and in consultation with parents, he came up with a detailed plan of activities for the national holidays of the two peoples.

In a letter sent to parents, the school's administration wrote: "Last week we devoted time to exposing pupils to, and studying, the events that occurred in 1948. The pupils studied the two narratives, the Palestinian and the Israeli, while displaying respect for the other and listening even at moments of disagreement, and contradiction [between the narratives]. The learning was based on our belief in the importance of knowing the past, and becoming acquainted with the other side, so that we can live together in the present, and guarantee a better future."

Yesterday, when media outlets incessantly reported about the security forces' preparations for "disturbances" on Nakba Day, Jewish and Arab pupils at Bridge Over the Wadi united to honor Palestinian memories. Less than a week after they stood together to honor the fallen in Israel's wars, Jewish and Arab teachers alike asked that everyone become acquainted with the people and places on the other side of the conflict, which has yet to end.

The activities were conducted under the shadow of the new legislation that threatens to cut government allocations to any institution that dares to refer to Israel's Independence Day as a day of mourning. But Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will not find even a trace of offense in this activity; it is utterly devoid of malice and lacks any reference, heaven forbid, to a day of mourning.

The pupils were exposed yesterday to the stories of villages that were abandoned in Wadi Ara. The information was conveyed via biographies of persons who lived in the region, and by memorializing their names both verbally and in drawings. The youngsters learned to express their feelings, criticism and longings also, in part, by reading poems by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. They studied works rendered by Palestinian caricaturist Naji al-Ali that have become iconic images in his people's struggle for independence. They children also were asked to come up with their own protest, on any subject that came to mind, and to present it in songs and cartoons. They concluded the activities by stressing the longing for a better future, one of peace and truth.

Agbaria did not conceal his pride. "There is nothing more moving, during the current period, than seeing our children at Bridge Over the Wadi severing themselves from national and language-related differences, and connecting with a shared sense of humanity and with the ostensibly simple concepts of fraternity and solidarity."

At this oasis of sanity at Kafr Kara, parents, teachers and pupils proved that our own narrative can be honored, without invalidating the other narrative. They taught and learned that the Palestinian memory can be cultivated, without repressing our own memory.

How sad it is to watch irresponsible adults, Jews and Arabs, developing expertise in the building of walls of alienation, fear and prejudice. In contrast, how inspiring it was to see Tamar and Lin, two girls who with their own small hands held the keys to equality, reconciliation and hope







The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is an opening for the release of Gilad Shalit and for starting a process of reconciliation between the State of Israel and its neighbors. The reconciliation between the Fatah people, who at Oslo relinquished an agreed-upon solution for the refugees, and the Hamas people, who are demanding that the question of the future of more than 7 million Palestinian refugees become part of a comprehensive agreement, is an opportunity for Israel. It can join the process and recognize the Nakba. The Palestinians, for their part, will recognize Israel.

For many years Israel has tried to ignore the question of the refugees, the majority of whom are living in the neighboring countries and a quarter of a million of them in Israel itself. There are refugees who want to return to their homes and lands to which they were not permitted to return after 1948. Others want recognition, compensation, the possibility for rehabilitation in the place where they are living or a return to an independent Palestine. There are various possibilities but it is impossible to keep on saying, the way Israel has been saying for years, that there is nothing to talk about. If we do not talk we will continue to fight.

In many countries where there has been a process of reconciliation they have spoken about the repressed and rewritten past, attempting to bring into the process many people from different groups with varied opinions and interests. The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is a huge opportunity for Israel to offer to join the process and examine ways to reconcile with the refugees and with the entire Arab world, through acknowledging the injustice done to them in 1948 in order to reach an agreement on the adjustment of the 1967 borders. Even though the debate in Israel and the world is focusing on separation from the territories occupied in 1967, the question of the borders and the question of the settlers - as long as we do not talk about the past, the present and the future of the Palestinian refugees, we will be living in war.

A process of reconciliation will make it possible to hear about the Palestinian past that was repressed and eradicated in Israel long before the Nakba Law was passed. Palestinian history - hundreds of villages that were destroyed, hundreds and thousands of Palestinians who were never allowed to return to their homes, names of villages and streets that have been changed - has been erased from the Israeli textbooks. At a museum in Jerusalem, every trace of the Baramki family, the original inhabitants of the beautiful house in which it is located, has been obliterated. Prof. Gabi Baramki, formerly president of Bir Zeit University, is even prohibited form entering Jerusalem and seeing the beautiful house where he grew up, the home planned and built by the father of the family. In a similar vein the gifted writer Yael Ne'eman, who describes how she grew up in Yehiam, devotes only two sentences to the expansion of the Galilee kibbutz onto lands added to it after 1948.

Long before legislation prohibiting the commemoration of the Nakba was passed, an unwritten law already ruled the media, the education system and the minds of Israelis - as though the existence of the State of Israel depends on the collective forgetting of Palestinian history. Anyone who brings up the issue is considered extremist and hallucinatory.

But what is really hallucinatory is that thousands of soldiers serving in the Gaza Strip do not know why the Palestinians in Gaza are living in refugee camps and what this has to do with the War of Independence they learned about in school. The eradication of Palestinian history is thorough and persistent, from the physical eradication of hundreds of villages, through the judaization of mixed locales like Acre and Jaffa to the plan to demolish Lifta - the sole Arab village remaining in all its beauty and its emptiness at the entrance to Jerusalem.

But all these attempts have not succeeded in eradicating either the Palestinian historical memory or the aspirations of millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the world to return to their homes - or to at least to win recognition, compensation or a return to an independent Palestine.

After decades of suffering, killing and pain is it worth continuing the cycle of war in order to continue to ignore the State of Israel's responsibility towards hundreds of thousands of refugees whose lands and homes were taken from them?

We must choose reconciliation in order for Gilad Shalit to be released, for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to be released and for all the Israeli soldiers serving in the occupied territories to return home. In September, Israel could be a country with recognized international borders and with an independent and recognized Palestinian neighbor, on the way to reconciliation. With help from the international community it is possible to establish truth and reconciliation commissions - toward peace between a Palestine that recognizes Israel and an Israel that recognizes the Nakba.







Four months after the start of upheavals in the Arab world it is possible to do an interim evaluation, and it is far from encouraging. In two countries, Tunisia and Egypt, tyrannical rulers were overthrown, but even there the process of democratization is far from guaranteed. In Syria the Alawite dictatorship of the Assad regime has, for the time being, managed to survive, and it has no problem shooting demonstrators and killing them, sending tanks to subdue city after city. In Libya the rebels are unable to overcome Gadhafi, despite the NATO air strikes. In Yemen the situation is far from clear, but the local strongman remains in power. In Bahrain the minority Sunni-ruled regime continues to oppress the Shi'ite majority, with the support of the Saudi military; the latest development there is the arrest of doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters.

This is not an Arab version of the revolutions in eastern Europe in 1989. What has happened to date is that only relatively moderate regimes, like those of Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fell, while Arab regimes lacking any moral or political qualms about murdering their own people, are holding on. Tahrir Square may have become a symbol, but to a great extent it is a hollow symbol. In the words of the poet, the sun rose and the butcher kept on killing.

For now, control in Egypt is in the hands of a military sect that has essentially ruled the country since 1952. In Egypt there is no figure of a reformer from above, like Mikhail Gorbachev or revolutionaries and dissidents like Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel. The demonstrators on Facebook and Twitter are no alternative for the many years of work (and risks ) of a group of dissidents like that of Solidarity in Poland or Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia.

Amr Moussa, who apparently has an excellent chance of being elected president (if elections are actually held ) is not exactly a dissident who dedicated his life to opposing the Mubarak regime: he is an apparatchik of the old regime with an anti-Western Nasserist ideological outlook. In matters of democracy, social justice or equality he has never expressed his views, and if he is elected, it will be through the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and/or the ruling military sect. The pogroms targeting the Kopts last week suggest that the Muslim-Christian brotherhood that was evident during the demonstrations failed to overcome the old religious hostilities. The danger of anarchy is also on the horizon. Not exactly the dawn of a new day.

The excitement in the West, and in Israel too, at the sight of the mass demonstrations led by educated, courageous youth is understandable: there has never been something like this in the Arab world, which has known military revolutions and populist dictatorships but never popular uprisings to overthrow tyrants. However, it turns out that without a strong infrastructure of civil society, demonstrations are no alternative to the establishment of institutions, which is essential for the consolidation of democracy. The vengeance being directed against the Mubarak family and its close associates is a cheap populist alternative to democracy.

And if this is the case in Egypt it is obvious that even if the dictatorships in Libya and Yemen are overthrown, it is not reasonable that we will see a stable democracy established in their stead. The lessons of eastern Europe show that in the absence of a tradition of civil society and pluralism, the old despotism may be replaced by another form of authoritarian regime, as has happened in Russia and Ukraine, not to mention the Central Asian republics.

The person who actually realized this is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Following a frustrating meeting with some of the activists of Tahrir Square several weeks ago she said that sometimes it turns out that those who begin the revolution are not always those who in the end climb to power. Even if more regimes collapse the path to democracy in the Arab world is still a bumpy one.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES





Fifty years ago this month, a group of black and white volunteers boarded two public buses in the District of Columbia to travel into the Deep South, where segregated waiting rooms, restrooms, lunch counters and other indignities were a fact of life despite Supreme Court rulings striking down segregation in interstate travel.


These Freedom Riders would be followed by hundreds of others. Their mission was to nonviolently confront local laws and customs that perpetuated illegal segregation. Their aim was to jolt Americans' consciousness and challenge the Kennedy administration to enforce African-Americans' constitutional rights.


A new documentary on PBS stations captures the political complexities and drama of this pivotal chapter in civil rights history. Written and directed by Stanley Nelson, it is based on Raymond Arsenault's 2006 book, "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice."


Fears that the integrated teams would meet with violence proved well founded. The first bus was attacked in the Alabama town of Anniston by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen who slashed the tires and then firebombed the crippled vehicle. The mob first held the doors shut, and then beat passengers escaping the burning bus. When the second bus arrived in Birmingham, passengers were brutally attacked by another Klan mob.


The violence did not end the Freedom Rides. In all, more than 400 men and women participated. Many were arrested and ended up spending time at Mississippi's bleak Parchman prison farm. In the end, they could claim victory. Acting at the request of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a sweeping order in September 1961 ending segregation in all interstate facilities and calling for all "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" signs to come down.


Five decades later, injustices remain. But the country's debt to the Freedom Riders is clear.









Forest Grove, Ore.

IN a letter to the New York State Legislature last month, top business executives endorsed same-sex marriage on the ground that "attracting talent is key to our state's economic future." The signers — among them the banker Lloyd C. Blankfein, the financier Ronald O. Perelman, the real estate developer Jerry I. Speyer and the publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman — declared that legalizing gay unions would "help maintain our competitive advantage in attracting the best and brightest people the world has to offer."


The letter was only the latest example of a trend toward promoting marriage equality as a boon to businesses and state and local budgets. While these arguments are appealing at first glance, and may be politically effective in the short run, they ultimately hurt the broader struggle for gay and lesbian equality.


On the surface, it's hard to disagree with the economic case for same-sex marriage. States and cities are, as the New York executives pointed out, competing to attract talent in a globally competitive labor market. The wedding industry benefits, of course, when more couples are allowed to marry. And marriage equality is associated with revenue gains from sales taxes and license fees. Backers of gay marriage speak openly of the gains from "marriage tourism" in states that have legalized same-sex marriage.


The amount of money involved is not pocket change: the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, puts the economic gain in Massachusetts alone at $111 million in the five years since same-sex marriage was legalized there. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states would yield $1 billion in annual revenue over a 10-year period.


Those making these economic arguments probably have the best of intentions. After all, why can't gays and lesbians have full equality, while also saving the state money and bolstering local economies? Aren't civil rights narratives consistent with the economic case for same-sex marriage? Shouldn't supporters use all possible arguments in the hopes that at least one will finally stick?


And yet supporting marriage on economic grounds dehumanizes same-sex couples by conflating civil rights with economic perks. Americans should be offended when the value of gays and lesbians is reduced to their buying power as consumers or their human and creative capital as workers.


Why can't same-sex couples have access to the same rights and protections as their straight neighbors simply because they are citizens? How would we respond if the right to interracial marriage were based on the prospects that these relationships made good business sense or added to the state budget? While economic arguments were certainly advanced during the struggle for African-American civil rights — in the late 1950s, Atlanta's business-oriented mayor, William B. Hartsfield, promoted his city as being "too busy to hate" — those rationales are not what we think about when we remember that struggle's highest ideals.


Worse yet, this narrative neglects the most economically vulnerable gay and lesbian couples and plays into the inaccurate stereotype of same-sex couples (particularly male couples) as being mostly well-educated and affluent.


For strategic purposes, proponents of same-sex marriage often point out — if not in public rallies then in press releases, reports and legal briefs — that legalizing same-sex marriage is likely to lead to a reduction in state spending on welfare programs.


Means-tested public assistance programs — notably food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which supports low-income parents with dependent children — take a spouse's income and assets into account in determining eligibility.


As the Williams Institute has noted in papers about the economic benefits of same-sex marriage, expanding marriage rights would send a substantial number of economically struggling couples over the eligibility thresholds, shifting the financial responsibility from the state to the couple without any actual improvement in the couple's economic well-being. One thing legal marriage does is obligate a couple to provide and care for each other, to ensure that they do not become the responsibility of the state. That isn't a bad thing if you can afford to do it, but many gay men and lesbians cannot.


Supporters of same-sex marriage ought to acknowledge that marriage is not just a natural expression of human intimacy or a declaration of personal commitment; it is a form of governance. The vast expansion of the government over the past century has embedded marriage into all areas where the state and the individual intersect, from tax obligations to disability benefits to health care decisions to family law. As with any other structure of governance in a democratic society, we ought to think about its participants as citizens rather than consumers.


So if you support same-sex marriage, do so not because it brings in tax revenue and tourism dollars and prevents people from becoming a burden on the state, but because you value gay men and lesbians as citizens who deserve equal access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage.


Jaye Cee Whitehead, an assistant professor of sociology at Pacific University, is the author of the forthcoming book "The Nuptial Deal: Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance."








Six months ago President Obama faced a hostage situation. Republicans threatened to block an extension of middle-class tax cuts unless Mr. Obama gave in and extended tax cuts for the rich too. And the president essentially folded, giving the G.O.P. everything it wanted.


Now, predictably, the hostage-takers are back: blackmail worked well last December, so why not try it again? This time House Republicans say they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling — a step that could inflict major economic damage — unless Mr. Obama agrees to large spending cuts, even as they rule out any tax increase whatsoever. And the question becomes what, if anything, will get the president to say no.


The debt ceiling itself is a strange feature of U.S. law: since Congress must vote to authorize spending and choose tax rates, why have a second vote on whether to allow the borrowing that these spending and taxation policies imply? In practice, however, legislators have historically been willing to raise the debt ceiling as necessary, so this quirk in our system hasn't mattered very much — until now.


What has changed? The answer is the radicalization of the Republican Party. Normally, a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate would acknowledge that it isn't in a position to impose its agenda on the nation. But the modern G.O.P. doesn't believe in following normal rules.


So what will happen if the ceiling isn't raised? It has become fashionable on the right to assert that it would be no big deal. On Saturday the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal ridiculed those worried about the consequences of hitting the ceiling as the "Armageddon lobby."


It's hard to know whether the "what, us worry?" types believe what they're saying, or whether they're just staking out a bargaining position. But in any case, they're almost surely wrong: seriously bad consequences will follow if the debt ceiling isn't raised.


For if we hit the debt ceiling, the government will be forced to stop paying roughly a third of its bills, because that's the share of spending currently financed by borrowing. So will it stop sending out Social Security checks? Will it stop paying doctors and hospitals that treat Medicare patients? Will it stop paying the contractors supplying fuel and munitions to our military? Or will it stop paying interest on the debt?


Don't say "none of the above." As I've written before, the federal government is basically an insurance company with an army, so I've just described all the major components of federal spending. At least one, and probably several, of these components will face payment stoppages if federal borrowing is cut off.


And what would such payment stops do to the economy? Nothing good. Consumer spending would probably crash, as nervous seniors started wondering how to pay for rent and food. Businesses that depend on government purchases would slash payrolls and cancel investments.


Furthermore, markets might well panic, especially if interest payments are missed. And the consequences of undermining faith in U.S. debt might be especially severe because that debt plays a crucial role in many financial transactions.


So hitting the debt ceiling would be a very bad thing. Unfortunately, it may be unavoidable.

Why? Because this is a hostage situation. If the president and his allies operate on the principle that failure to raise the debt ceiling is an unthinkable outcome, to be avoided at all cost, then they have ceded all power to those willing to bring that outcome about. In effect, they will have ripped up the Constitution and given control over America's government to a party that only controls one house of Congress, but claims to be willing to bring down the economy unless it gets what it wants.


Now, there are good reasons to believe that the G.O.P. isn't nearly as willing to burn the house down as it claims. Business interests have made it clear that they're horrified at the prospect of hitting the debt ceiling. Even the virulently anti-Obama U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to raise the ceiling "as expeditiously as possible." And a confrontation over spending would only highlight the fact that Republicans won big last year largely by promising to protect Medicare, then promptly voted to dismantle the program.


But the president can't call the extortionists' bluff unless he's willing to confront them, and accept the associated risks.


According to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, Mr. Obama has told Democrats not to draw any "line in the sand" in debt negotiations. Well, count me among those who find this strategy completely baffling. At some point — and sooner rather than later — the president has to draw a line. Otherwise, he might as well move out of the White House, and hand the keys over to the Tea Party.









Most candidates for the highest office in the land spend months, if not years, currying favor with the rich and powerful: glad-handing at fund-raising dinners, schmoozing in mansions, pressing the flesh in Aspen and Manhattan and Nob Hill.


Not so Mike Huckabee. He ran for president in 2008 with no money, no campaign infrastructure, no professional handlers or ad gurus or wardrobe consultants. (When I interviewed him in New Hampshire, he had just ironed his own suit.) His entire campaign — which won him more delegates than Mitt Romney's lavishly financed operation — consisted of showing up for any television program that would have him, and turning on the charm.


It's no surprise, then, that Huckabee prefers his new life as a Fox News host to the dubious pleasures of another presidential run. But he'll be missed in the 2012 race, and not just because his absence promises to dramatically reduce the entertainment value of the Republican debates.


He'll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that's common in American life but rare in America's political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it's tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.


This combination of views represents one of the plausible middle grounds in American politics. You can find it in the Republican Party, among the evangelicals and Catholics whose votes made the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush possible. You can find it among independent voters, particularly in what a recent Pew report calls the "disaffected" demographic, whose hostility to big government coexists with anxieties about corporate power and support for redistribution of wealth. And you find it in the Democratic Party as well — from the dwindling ranks of pro-life Catholic liberals to the "Bill Cosby conservatives" in the African-American middle class.


But few of these people are members of the American elite. Call someone a "centrist" or a "moderate" in the salons of Washington or New York, and everyone will assume that you're talking about a deficit hawk who supports open borders, or a Republican C.E.O. who writes checks to Planned Parenthood. Among our leadership class, centrism invariably means some combination of big-business conservatism and social progressivism — the politics of pro-choice Republicans, hedge fund Democrats and Michael Bloomberg independents.


This is why Huckabee's 2008 campaign seemed to come out of nowhere. The press was baffled, and often delighted: here was a right-wing politician who talked easily about health care and admitted that the Bush economy had been lousy for working families. (There would have been less delight, of course, if he had actually won the Republican nomination: then all the talk would have turned to his supposedly "scary" views on issues like abortion.)


Republican elites, meanwhile, were appalled. They called him a class warrior and a pro-life liberal, and regularly insinuated that he had jumped above his station. (Lisa Schiffren, a former speechwriter for Dan Quayle, memorably suggested that Huckabee go back to "that bait shop on the lake. ... You'll be surrounded by nice neighbors, real Christians, and you can be the smartest guy in the room.")


Never mind that Huckabee's record as governor of Arkansas was at least as conservative as Mitt Romney's in Massachusetts. Somehow, the Romney of 2008 just seemed like a more plausible Republican nominee. Like many American political entrepreneurs, from George W. Bush to John Edwards to Rush Limbaugh, he was a well-connected rich guy posing as a populist. Whereas Huckabee really was a populist — a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University rather than Harvard Business School, and a man with no interest in the rhetorical correctness and interest-group ring-kissing that both parties expect of their nominees.


Of course, his 2008 campaign also reflected populism's inevitable flaw: a desperate lack of policy substance. Huckabee won votes by talking about issues that the other Republican candidates wouldn't touch, but his actual agenda was a grab bag of gimmicks and crank ideas. And nothing in his subsequent television career has indicated a strong interest in putting policy meat on the bones of his worldview.


Still, his candidacy illuminated a path that more politicians should take. We live in an age of economic stagnation and social crisis, and the two are intimately connected. The collapse of the two-parent family and unfettered low-skilled immigration have made America more stratified. The Wall Street-Washington axis really did drive the country into a ditch.


For all his faults, Mike Huckabee knew how to talk about these problems. Now we need leaders with ideas for what do about them.







Last year, Republicans refused to renew unemployment benefits unless the high-end Bush-era tax cuts were preserved. After the White House agreed to keep the tax cuts through 2012, they agreed to extend federal jobless benefits through 2011. Now, they want to renege.


The House Ways and Means Committee, on a strict Republican vote, recently passed a bill to let states use federal jobless money for other purposes, including tax cuts for business. This is a very bad idea at a time when the national jobless rate is 9 percent, and higher than that in 22 states. The $31 billion in yet to be paid federal benefits is desperately needed.


State unemployment benefits end after six months. Federal benefits, which average $293 a week, then kick in. In better times six months may be a reasonable period to expect a laid-off worker to find another job. But not these days. Right now, more than four million families depend on extended federal benefits to get by.


The bill would let states use the federal jobless money to pay debt that would otherwise have to be paid by raising business taxes. In particular, the bill could get businesses off the hook for increases that will be needed to repay $41 billion in federal loans that states took to cover shortfalls in their unemployment funds.


The tax increases would be largely automatic, because if a state does not pay back its loans within two years — which states are hard pressed to do — the federal government is required to recoup the money by raising federal unemployment taxes on employers in the state.


That leads to two important points. No one thinks it is a good idea to hit businesses with big tax increases when the economy is fragile. Nor is it necessary to stiff jobless workers to give businesses tax relief. Instead, Congress could delay and reduce the taxes until the economy is stronger, by forgiving loans for states that rebuild their funds — a fix detailed in a Senate bill by Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois.


Republicans, however, aren't looking to restore the funds to long-term solvency; they want to cut taxes no matter what the cost. And their business constituents — who have resisted paying unemployment taxes in good times as well as bad — don't want to pay more taxes into the system, even after the economy has recovered.


That's where the House bill comes in. Its main proponent, Representative Dave Camp, the Ways and Means chairman, says that under the bill, states can keep paying full federal benefits. But he also says they need the "flexibility" to prevent "job-killing tax hikes."


Arkansas, Florida, Michigan and Missouri have passed their own laws this year that will cut business taxes by reducing the standard 26 weeks of state benefits, starting in 2012. Other states are also weighing cutbacks.


The Ways and Means bill has little chance of passing the Senate with the Democrats in charge. But it provides dangerous fuel to antitax efforts in the states. And it presages more fights to come in Washington.


Joblessness is not expected to fall much this year, so come 2012, federal benefits will need to be renewed. Republicans are sure to resist, even though the arguments for renewal are sound: the benefits bolster the economy by supporting consumption and they are a humane response to economic calamity. There are better ways to help the states and bolster business during tough times. Reducing unemployment benefits is the wrong choice.









Islamabad, Pakistan


THE revelation that Osama bin Laden was living less than a mile from Pakistan's national military academy has raised serious questions about the efficacy of Pakistan's military and intelligence services and brought into sharp focus the weakness of the Pakistani state.


There is now huge pressure from civil society and opposition parties to appoint a commission to investigate the raid on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, and to take action against those responsible for the lapses that allowed American forces to enter Pakistani territory undetected. The ability of the armed forces to guard the border with Afghanistan and the civilian government's control over security matters have also been put into doubt.


The volatile situation in Pakistan is matched by the understandable outrage of Americans that the world's most notorious terrorist lived unmolested for five years in a city teeming with Pakistani military officers. But any overreaction by Washington could endanger Pakistani democracy and further empower the military — or even lead to an outright military takeover. For the United States, support for Pakistan's civilian, democratic government is the only way to assure regional peace, stability and prosperity.


Washington cannot separate its military relationship with Pakistan from its political relationship: America needs Pakistan's cooperation to permit the smooth withdrawal of the majority of American troops from Afghanistan before 2012, while the Obama administration must disentangle itself from the Afghan war to help ensure the president's re-election. And there can be no peace in Afghanistan without a modicum of Pakistani assistance.


For Pakistan, America's military and economic assistance is vital. Moreover, when Pakistan is facing enormous domestic difficulties, it can ill afford to antagonize America. Leaders in both countries must therefore step back from confrontation and find ways to repair the damage. Pushing Pakistan's political leadership to the brink is not an option.


Washington should avoid the temptation to pursue aggressive diplomacy, cut off economic assistance or intensify its Predator drone attacks. The most dangerous and counterproductive step would be for the United States Congress to drastically cut financing for Pakistan's military. Such a punitive measure might satisfy the American need to express displeasure, but it would have several unhappy consequences.


First, it would reinforce the already strong perception in Pakistan that the United States is an unreliable ally that acts unilaterally. Second, it would confirm the view that the United States favors India and reinforce the Pakistani security establishment's obsession with India as the enemy.


This, in turn, would renew Pakistan's determination to maintain a strong voice and presence in Afghanistan — especially in Pashtun areas — through the Afghan Taliban and other groups unfriendly to the United States, a strategy that many in the security establishment believe will help Pakistan avoid encirclement by India.


This would be a very dangerous route for Pakistan to pursue, as it would invite reprisals and increase Western and Indian distrust of Pakistan. It might also embolden India to go after the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India and the United States say carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, and lead the United States to strike at the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in Pakistan. Such moves would create a vicious cycle of recrimination that would result in Pakistan and the region becoming even more unstable and chaotic.


To be sure, Pakistan's India-centric policy is harmful and counterproductive. The present crisis provides an opportunity for the Pakistani military to give up this strategically misguided obsession. India should also use this window of opportunity to step forward and normalize relations with its neighbor, instead of gloating over Pakistan's misfortunes.


The killing of Bin Laden proves once and for all that the Pakistani military cannot look the other way as Afghan Taliban gather in Pakistan. Failing to act with full force against Islamist extremists at home is no longer an option. However, the United States needs to show greater understanding and patience while Pakistan undertakes this necessary strategic shift.


If America tries to punish rather than support Pakistan in this difficult hour, the Pakistani military, in a dangerous test of wills, might pursue a course of action based on emotion and hyped-up nationalism that will only weaken the joint effort to fight terrorism.


Talat Masood is a military analyst and a retired lieutenant general in the Pakistani Army.







Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York began barnstorming the state last week to rally support for three of his campaign promises: ethics reform, same-sex marriage and, unfortunately, his misguided cap on property taxes. He advised voters upstate to tell their representatives: "pass these bills or don't come home."


The Legislature plans to end work on June 20. Lawmakers should not be allowed to show their faces — anywhere — if they fail to pass serious ethics reform legislation to end Albany's corrupt pay-to-play culture.


The state needs an independent ethics commission to oversee both the Legislature and the governor. Self-policing — the Legislature's method — clearly does not do the job. Outside work by legislators can no longer be a state secret, especially lawyers whose firms have business with the state. Campaign finance laws need to be tightened — and enforced, with real penalties that rise sharply the longer they are not paid. Legislators from both houses are stalling on these vital reforms.


Lawmakers should be shunned if they fail to approve same-sex marriage before the end of the term. Polls show that most New Yorkers support marriage equality, and in recent weeks, two dozen top New York business leaders have spoken out forcefully on the need to pass this bill. There can be no more excuses.


Mr. Cuomo is right to push both of these issues hard. And we would urge him to start barnstorming for two more: creating an independent redistricting commission and strengthening regulations that limit rent increases for more than one million apartments in New York City. Redistricting must be done this year; rent regulations — essential protection for middle- and working-class New Yorkers — expire in mid-June.


At the same time Mr. Cuomo should drop his campaign to cap local property taxes. This one is popular with local homeowners and in many towns taxes are burdensomely high. At a time when Albany is cutting back on education aid and other support for communities, a cap would mean many towns would have to slash basic services — teachers, police officers and firefighters.


The argument that voters can always choose to override the cap is flawed. The only places where that is likely to happen are wealthy communities.


Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature have a month before the summer recess — not a lot of time to get things right. The state needs ethics reform, redistricting reform and marriage equality. The city needs rent regulations. What isn't needed is a property-tax cap.








President Obama should waste no more time and sign an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose any checks they write to the newly legal troughs of secret campaign donations. House Republicans, who in the past loudly supported such transparency, are holding hearings to push the absurd claim that Mr. Obama is aiming to violate donors' free speech.


Government contractors are already required to disclose their spending through political action committees. The order would extend that requirement, and transparency, to money going to new groups shrouding donors and their true political goals.


Voters certainly have a right to know which companies doing business with the federal government — and paid with tax dollars — are also trying to curry favor with politicians.


If Mr. Obama fails to issue the contractors' order, he will underline the hypocrisy of his own campaign supporters' decision to go all out for their piece of the secret money torrent. Representative Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, certainly didn't help when he recently questioned the propriety of the disclosure order.


Politics' new supersized casino was legitimized by the Supreme Court's decision to end decades of restrictions on corporate and union campaign spending. As Republicans offer a free-speech smoke screen, it is imperative to note that the Supreme Court also upheld the constitutionality of disclosure, so "citizens can see whether elected officials are 'in the pocket' of so-called moneyed interests." In the pocket, indeed.


Republicans blocked the last Congress from mandating full disclosure. President Obama has the authority and responsibility to shine the light on contractors. That's not enough, but it is a start.











Last week, in response to Turkish authorities' statements that the United States has not given enough support to Turkey in its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Francis J. Ricciardone, was reported to have described such claims as "disinformation," "myth," and "a lie."

According to Ricciardone, Washington's most important support to Ankara is in the intelligence field. More importantly, Washington has preferred to provide this "valuable, expensive and special" capability for use by Turkish forces instead of deploying it for the benefit of combating U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

To a certain extent, the ambassador is right. U.S. intelligence support to Turkey is indeed important and must be appreciated by Turkish authorities. I have, nevertheless, some reservations with regard to the nature of the intelligence given to Ankara.

"Real-time," or "actionable" intelligence are strategic concepts, which developed during the course of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Actually, American intelligence operations before and during the occupation were a complete fiasco. James Risen, the author of an important book, "State of War," on the subject in question maintains, "No other institution failed in its mission as completely during the Bush years as did the CIA."

As the insurgency surfaced, the situation became more complex. The U.S. Army lacked even the most basic information that might enable them to assemble a picture as to what was really happening on the ground. The U.S. commanders didn't know who the enemy was, how they operated, their numbers and capability, their motivations or how they were organized.

In late 2003 the symptoms of the problem were finally recognized and U.S. authorities launched an extraordinary push to improve intelligence capabilities in Iraq. They concluded that speed was the key to attaining concrete results. Attempts at obtaining reliable intelligence were a disaster, and what little good information was gathered at the lower levels unfortunately struggled to make it up the chain of command. That which did, arrived too late.

Now with that in mind, imagine the quality of U.S. intelligence support reaching Turkish authorities. If you take the length of the chain of command into account, do you think that the inevitable time lag is likely to be conducive to gaining concrete results? Under these circumstances, I am afraid to say, U.S. intelligence support to Turkey is in fact nothing more than a mere border patrol. 

There is one final aspect of the problem, a political one, which is more important. The aim of the U.S. intelligence operations was primarily to get a bead on enemy leadership and then to destroy it. This is what they also did to Osama bin Laden. The PKK, leader Abdullah Öcalan, in turn, was handed over to Turkey with one stipulation: The death penalty was not to be applied to him. The rest of the leadership of the PKK, on the other hand, freely walks the streets of northern Iraq today.

It is precisely for this paradox that some Turkish authorities are skeptical of further U.S. intentions in the region. And Ambassador Ricciardone is actually one of the few American officials who is aware how deep Turkish distrust against the U.S. might go particularly on that matter, because he did not only serve in the past as political advisor to the U.S. and Turkish commanding generals of Operation Provide Comfort, but was also involved, as deputy chief of mission, in the evacuation of pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds subsequent to the coup attempt against Saddam Hussein in 1995-96. 

Having said that, do you think that the basic interests of the U.S. and Turkey on the Kurdish question in the Middle East are easy to reconcile?

You may not have to wait long for the answer to that critical question, dear readers; all is likely to be revealed as events unfold in Syria.






Two weeks in Jordan is enough to make you throw two decades of Economics down the drain. At least, part of it.

We teach in economics classes that a fixed exchange rate is not a good idea. You make yourself open to speculative attacks and lose monetary policy autonomy. It is argued that corner solutions, such as a fully flexible exchange rate or leaving one's currency altogether, by adopting a common currency or another country's, are preferable to in-between solutions like a fixed exchange rate.

However, being pegged to the dollar seems to have been working rather well for Jordan. Government officials and the IMF agree that not only has the peg played a vital role in anchoring inflation expectations, it has also helped maintain financial stability in a volatile region. As for monetary autonomy, Samar Maziad of the IMF finds that there is some room for flexibility in operating monetary policy in the short-run.

But some things never change. My time in Jordan has also reminded me that there is no secret formula for development. Each country has its own specific circumstances that it needs to take into account. Otherwise, you would be hard-pressed to explain why Jordan doesn't fly and touch the sky despite an open economy, an educated workforce and success in attracting foreign direct investment.

Of course, Jordan has many constraints on growth as well, such as its small size and lack of water. But Singapore and Dubai have been able to overcome arguably tougher challenges. I must admit that size does matter, especially when you try to understand Turkish industry's edge over Jordan's, or make a comparison of the two stock exchanges.

The latter story is quite interesting. As Nader Azar, Deputy CEO of the Amman Stock Exchange, noted, when the Istanbul Stock Exchange opened 25 years ago, Turks would come to the ASE to learn. Now, the ASE sends people to the ISE for training, where average daily trading volume was 136 times higher in April, despite both exchanges having more or less the same number of listed companies. No wonder you see wild price swings at the ASE.

Another lesson is that just as you can't force banks to lend less, you also can't oblige them to lend more, either. Jordan is one step ahead of Turkey in that regard, as it is, to my knowledge, only depending on market mechanisms rather than Ali Babacan-like outright threats. While reducing required reserves in exchange for loans to small and medium-sized enterprises has not been deemed sufficient by bankers, it is nevertheless a useful first step.

You also appreciate the wisdom of the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld. As Kramer explains, "when there is no work, people are restless. Who do you think they come after? El Presidente!" While this is an oversimplification of events in the region, it also explains quite well the recent extra budgetary measures in Jordan, which have not only widened the deficit, but also have pushed debt dangerously close to the 60 percent legal ceiling.

Finally, seeing Jordan so serious about the reform agenda makes me wonder why Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, with the extra security of robust macroeconomic fundamentals under its belt, has shied away from structural reforms. With their new investment law, the Jordanians are actively targeting the variables that factor into the World Bank's Doing Business and World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness rankings. Many other countries are engaged in this rat race as well, so I am worried that Turkey is falling behind.

There is one more thing that Turkey lacks in comparison to Jordan: Decent falafel. You haven't had falafel until you have had it at Hashem in downtown Amman. And now I need to go and get some before my flight back.







The Middle East's season of popular revolts for greater freedoms has thrown a critical spotlight on Turkey's ambition for a leading role in the region, whether as an actor pursuing a "zero problem" foreign policy or through the gravitational pull of its "Turkish model."

The region's commercial giant was caught dramatically off balance by the wave of unrest. Some 25,000 of the 110,000 Turks who work in the Middle East lived in Libya, and had to be evacuated from projects worth at least $15 billion. For weeks, Turkey hesitated to call for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's ouster, jarring with Turkish leaders' rhetoric in Egypt that had sought to portray Turks as firmly on the side of youth, change and democracy.

Syria's troubles have embarrassed Turkey too. For more than a decade, Damascus has been the fulcrum of Turkey's re-entry into the Arab political system, a relationship that was focused on the Assad family regime. Turmoil in a country with an 877 kilometer border with Turkey also showed that Ankara's one-size-fits-all zero problem approach could at best only hope for a long-term impact on the Middle East's traumatized status quo. And a multilateral free-trade zone for Syria, Jordan and Lebanon will take longer now, along with its promise of greater regional integration, stability and prosperity.

But it is too early to dismiss Turkey's role in the region. Even while threatened with refugee flows from Syria, Turkey has not blinked from its no-visa policy for several Middle Eastern states. And unlike the state-to-state relationships of many outside powers active in the Middle East, Turkey's engagement is also backed by dense business relationships, four flights per day to most capitals and the sale of scores of soap operas to the local broadcasters.

Turkey's regional prominence may partly have been due to Egypt's fading appeal under ex-President Hosni Mubarak. But Turkey was a prime mover in persuading world powers to aim for the ultimately successful transition of power to the Egyptian army, and not to former intelligence chief Omar Suleyman. And Ankara has also moved from a prickly relationship with Mubarak to warm relationships with all parts of the new Egyptian political spectrum.

In the triangular crisis involving Bahrain's Sunni-Shia friction and the threateningly angry war of words that resulted between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey has managed to keep lines open to all sides.

Turkey pursues a similarly well-balanced role in Iraq, acting to lessen sectarian divides in March, for instance, as its Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Shia shrines and leaders. In short, Turkey has buried its Cold War image as a poor and inward-looking cousin, a cat's paw of Western power run by militaristic secularists who had turned their back on Islam. Instead it has become a commercial hub and dynamo, fashionable enough for Istanbul to attract the weddings of grand Middle Eastern families.

Another dynamic is often called the "Turkish model," a concept that is as hard to define as the country itself.

In fact, this Turkish model doesn't fit into any regional or ideological bloc. Erdoğan's government has pro-Islamic factions, for instance, but it is by no means Islamist. Indeed, Turkey's key achievement has been a rough-and-ready balance between authoritarianism, militarism, statism, religious fundamentalism and nationalism, all dynamics from which it suffered for decades, and which still plague the Middle East.

One guarantee of these Turkish checks and balances is a broad democratic legitimacy. Turkey has moved from one-party authoritarianism to a multi-party system, a bumpy and ongoing journey over the past 60 years. More needs to be done, as with its patchy record for freedom of expression. But, unusually for the region, elections are fully recognized as free, fair and legitimate.

The Middle East cannot easily copy the Turkish model, however, because of unique factors. Turkey has enjoyed 90 years largely free of war and revolution. Reforms have benefited hugely from the European Union accession process that no Middle East state can hope for. While oil income both blesses and curses many regional governments, Turkey has little and has been forced to develop a pluralistic economy and openness to the world.

Finally, Turkey is anchored by a state rooted in the Ottoman and even Byzantine empires, a situation that only Egypt and Iran can come close to. All these have helped Turkey find momentum and a path forward, while its neighbors are still seeking one. Like many of the Middle East's partners, it is suffering setbacks in the latest unrest, and many aspects of its own ethnic Kurdish problem still need closure. But all the signs are that Turkey will be able to adapt, and that its system is more in tune with the positive new forces of the Middle East than the oppressive ones of the old.

*Hugh Pope is director of International Crisis Group's Turkey/Cyprus project and author of three books on Turkey, the Turkic World and the Middle East. He was a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in 2010. This piece originally published in Transatlantic Academy.






Syria is no Libya for many reasons; not just because it is a country right on the Turkish border or, like Turkey, it has a Kurdish population and an explosion there may ignite an explosion on this side of the border as well.

Like a broken watch that shows correct time twice a day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as well occasionally makes some correct analysis. Last week, while comparing the uprising in Libya against the Moammar Gadhafi regime and the growing unrest in the Syrian street against the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad, the prime minister correctly said Libya and Syria were two totally different issues for Turkey.

Erdoğan explained while Turkey was very much concerned with what's happening in Libya and have been undertaking every possible effort to contribute to a quick end to the tumult and restoration of peace and order in Libya, Syria was very much like a domestic incident for Turkey.

As part of its neo-Ottoman drive to enhance its influence in the Middle Eastern territory of the former Ottoman Empire the ruling Justice and development Party, or AKP, government of Turkey has long waived visa requirement in travel between Turkey and Syria. The aim behind that move was to plant the seeds of a future European Union-like Middle Eastern union led by Turkey but the first tangible result was not a marked increase in commercial, business or tourist interactions, but a batch of 250 refugees running from the fire on the Syrian street.

If the problem continues and escalates further in the Syrian street it is probable that the prefabricated facility in the Hatay province constructed to provide temporary lodging to pilgrims during the Hajj season will not suffice in providing a shelter to Syrian refugees who thanks to the no-visa regime in travel between Turkey and Syria may freely escape to Turkey from the trouble in their own street and thus carry the problem to the Turkish street.

For now the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists are abiding with an unilateral truce, which is claimed to have been negotiated with the government by Abdullah Öcalan, the chieftain of the gang serving an enforced life term on the İmralı island prison, which according to claims will last until June 15, three days after the June 12 parliamentary elections. Indeed, excluding some rehearsal for a possible mass civilian disobedience campaign after the elections and some exceptional terrorist acts, it might be said that there is nothing extraordinary in Turkey's southeast bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, where there are sizeable Kurdish populations.

The "success" of the unrest in Syrian streets in uprooting the government might mean added trouble for Turkey, which has been battling with separatist terrorism for the past 25 years. Turkey remaining silent or supportive of the Assad regime crushing the pressure for a regime change and reform calls of the Syrian street, on the other hand, would seriously imperil the regional role aspired by the AKP governance of Turkey.

Indeed, while the AKP government in Ankara joined the calls of the U.S.-led coalition of the willing that time is up for Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and for peace and safety of his own people Gadhafi must step down, as regards to Syria Ankara, as well as the Western alliance, has been restraining their calls with a shy request from Assad to accelerate reforms.

While Ankara may answer anti-Turkish demonstrations in Libya by closing down the Turkish embassy in Tripoli, the first ever such action by the diplomatic service throughout its modern history, anti-Turkish demonstrations in Damascus can be really costly for Turkey now and in the future.

While the personal friendly relations between Assad and his counterpart in Turkey, Erdoğan, might provide Turkey a golden opportunity to help Syria sail out of the current tumultuous situation. Of course at a time when Erdoğan himself is after converting Turkey into his sultanate of fear under the aegis of advanced democracy it might be absurd to expect him to advise Assad of a democratic way out of the mess in Syria. Yet, as much as Turkey needs to see restoration of peace, security and stability in Syria for domestic security reasons as well as for its regional role, Syria and President Assad need Turkey and Erdoğan to walk the extra mile in reforms advised by them, as the real-politic of the day compels him to do so if he wants to sail out of this problem in one piece.

If, however, despite Turkey's democracy and reform preaches, the massacres continue in the Syrian street not only the prestige of Erdoğan in the Arab street will be seriously impaired but sooner or later the fire in the Arab street will have a reflection on the Turkish streets.






The Arab revolutions have challenged many conceptions about change in the Arab world. They have also challenged perspectives regarding several key players in the region, including al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations whose ideologies have been undermined by recent events.

Osama bin Laden's death may yet play a role in destabilizing al-Qaeda but the Arab revolutions had already essentially destroyed the foundational arguments, which al-Qaeda has been largely dependent on for the past 15 years.

The first of these arguments is that corrupt Arab regimes can only be overturned through violence. As recent history shows, this strategy has not been successful in any of the Arab countries that have experienced protests. It was peaceful and unarmed popular movements that ousted some of the strongest security-based regimes in the Arab world, Tunisia and Egypt's.

Another of al-Qaeda's arguments is that capturing the attention of the global mainstream media cannot be accomplished except by large-scale terrorist operations, which result in massive destruction. Given the immense devastation from such attacks, the media has no choice but to cover al-Qaeda's activities and ideology, including its perverted religious justifications for killing civilians.

The Arab revolutions, however, were able to attract global media coverage of peaceful protests, and more importantly, were able to change the ugly perception of Arabs and Muslims in the West due primarily to al-Qaeda's violent actions in the past several years. The revolutions instead present an image of organized, educated and highly efficient youth who are committed to non-violent action to create positive change.

Al-Qaeda also claims that it speaks on behalf of oppressed Arabs and Muslims. However the Arab revolutions show that al-Qaeda's goals differ from the aspirations of the majority in the Arab world. The demands of revolutionary youth centre on freedom, dignity and democracy. Unlike al-Qaeda, they do not call for an Islamic state, the application of a conservative interpretation of Islamic law, or a war against the West.

All social groups and all segments across the political and religious spectrums came together during the recent protests. Secularists joined youth from the Muslim Brotherhood in Tahrir Square, and young women wearing jeans stood next to others wearing the hijab (headscarf). Christians, leftists and traditionalists stood with them.

Al-Qaeda believes there are two sides to the world: the side of good comprised of al-Qaeda and similar groups, and the side of evil, which includes anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who does not subscribe to its agenda. This perspective finds similarities in former U.S. President George W. Bush's rhetoric, which also divided the world into those who are "with us" and those who are "against us."

Instead, the Arab revolutions have shown that the world need not be divided into two "sides." Western media sometimes literally stood side-by-side with Arab and Muslim protesters, and both the general public and the elite in the Arab world, as well as political leaders in the West, voiced support for these revolutions.

The most important arguments on which al-Qaeda has been founded over the years are being undermined. It is possible that the beginning of its end has begun.

* Khaled Hroub is the director of Media Program of the Gulf Research Centre and the Arab Media Project at Cambridge University. This article originally appeared on the Common Ground News Service.








"I'd grown up with the assumption that Scotland was a poor, wee, deprived place that had never had a fair kick of the ball and could certainly never stand on its own two feet," said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, or SNP, whose goal is an independent Scotland. He certainly doesn't believe that now. The SNP finally won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in the election on May 5.

 Salmond first formed a government four years ago, but that was a weak coalition, in which the SNP had to bargain and compromise with the other parties. This time, with 69 out of 129 seats, Salmond doesn't have to haggle. He can carry out his election promises, which include a referendum on Scottish independence.

 If the voters said yes, that would be the end of the United Kingdom, the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England. Other things being equal, a majority of Scots might well vote for independence, but other things never are equal.

In the real world, many Scots are afraid that their small country, with only one-tenth of England's population, would be too vulnerable to the financial and strategic storms that shake the world. Opinion polls consistently show that no more than a quarter to a third of Scottish voters would vote yes in an independence referendum. Yet they voted the SNP into power. Why?

 The main reason is that the Liberal Democratic vote collapsed in Scotland in this election. Quite a lot of those Scottish Lib Dems gave their votes to the SNP instead, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they support independence.

Since Salmond has been canny enough to promise a referendum, they knew that they could vote yes to an SNP government, and then say no to independence. He delivered sound government in difficult circumstances over the past four years; why not give him another go?

 The reality is that Salmond is unlikely to persuade the Scots to vote yes in his promised referendum, even if he postpones it until near the end of his term in the hope that he can cajole or manipulate more of them into backing independence. The smart money is betting on 2015. So there shouldn't be any big changes in Scotland as a result of this election, and yet it may hurt the country a lot, in the end.

Scottish separatists hate the analogy with Ireland, which they once held up as an example of how a small European country with few natural resources and a big but undercapitalized banking sector could do very well in the world. Now they just try to change the subject when Ireland comes up, but that's not the worst thing that could happen to Scotland.

The real danger is what would happen to Scotland if the separatists lose the forthcoming referendum but keep on trying. That's what happened in Quebec, where the separatists first came to the fore politically in the 1960s. They held and lost two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, but for half a century the prospect that there would eventually be a referendum, or yet another referendum, on separation from Canada was there every year.

"Planning blight" is what happens when the word gets out that they may be running a freeway through the neighborhood, and property values and new investment collapse. Quebec had it on a province-wide scale for half a century. It's impossible to calculate the financial cost directly, but the population numbers are a good indication of what happened.

 For the first half of the 20th century, Quebec and Ontario, the two biggest Canadian provinces, had about the same population and grew at about the same rate. In 1960, Quebec was only slightly smaller than Ontario, with 5.2 million people compared to Ontario's 6.2 million people. By 2010, Quebec had only grown to 7.8 million, while Ontario had 13 million people.

 The contrast is equally dramatic for the big cities. Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec, had always been Canada's biggest city. In 1960, Montreal had 2.2 million people, and Toronto, the capital of Ontario, had only 1.7 million. Now Toronto has 6 million people, while Montreal has only 3.8 million.

It's as if Chicago had started growing fast in the 1960s, and was now half again as big as New York City. It was the planning blight of the ever-looming next referendum on independence, the "neverendum," as English-speaking Quebecers sometimes call it, which did this to Quebec. The same thing could happen to Scotland.

Independence for Scotland would not necessarily be a financial and demographic disaster, but the permanent expectation of another independence referendum certainly would be.

 The Scots are unlikely ever to vote yes for independence, because the world has become a much harsher place economically for small Western countries with declining traditional industries and big debts. An independent Scotland would presumably inherit about at tenth of Britain's national debt.

 Yet Salmond has now put an independence referendum firmly on the Scottish political agenda, and it is unlikely to go away again in the foreseeable future even if he loses this one. Neverendum.







LONDON – "He lived a hero, he died a martyr...if they killed one Osama, a thousand others will be born," says a comment on a Facebook group called "We are all Osama bin Laden." The group was formed one hour after U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of the al-Qaeda leader's death. That Facebook group already has around 30,000 "likes." Moreover, there are more than 50 similar groups on Facebook.

Reaction to bin Laden's death on Al-Jazeera and other Arabic news outlets has been mixed. Some view the man considered a mass murderer in the West as an icon, and his death and burial at sea at the hands of American forces will not undermine that perception in the eyes of his sympathizers. Indeed, Egypt's former Mufti, Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasil, has already declared bin Laden a martyr, "because he was killed by the hands of the enemy." (Sheikh Wasil, it should be made known, has no links or known sympathies for al-Qaeda and he represents a very different Islamic school of thought.)

Aside from the mixed signals online, in the virtual world, the critical question is whether eliminating bin Laden marks the beginning of al-Qaeda's demise in reality. Some terrorist organizations have, of course, collapsed following the death of their charismatic leader. The case of Shoko Asahara, the founder of Aum Shinrikyo (the Japanese group that organized the Sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995), comes to mind here.

But capturing and trying violent leaders is probably a better marker of the end of such organizations – the chances of such an outcome being higher when such leaders recant their views and call on their followers to lay down their arms. Abimael Guzmán, the leader of the Maoist Shining Path in Peru, and Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in Turkey, are notable examples of this.

By contrast, far from causing the demise of an armed movement, the killing of a charismatic leader at the hands of his enemies can transform such a figure into a martyr. Che Guevera was far more valuable to leftist militancy after his death than he was while alive.

Armed Islamism has its particularities, of course, but it also shares important characteristics with some of these groups, including the relationship between the physical elimination of a leader and organizational survival. Decentralized organizations with relevant ideologies, operating in contexts full of conditions conducive to armed action, usually survive leadership losses, whereas hierarchical, cult-like organizations often do not.

Since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been far from a hierarchical, cult-like organization. Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi's al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq demonstrates this well: the group was called al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia for recruitment and propaganda purposes, but it was quite autonomous organizationally and operationally. When bin Laden's close collaborator Ayman al-Zawahiri asked al-Zaraqawi to avoid targeting Shiites, al-Zaraqawi instead escalated the violence against them.

Al-Qaeda's franchise model applies to Algeria, Yemen, North Mali, and Somalia as well. And, like guerrilla movements of yore, al-Qaeda partakes of "ideological front" tactics: small urban cells and/or vulnerable individuals subscribe to the ideology and self-recruit or self-start an affiliated cell.

In all of its decentralized modes of operation, bin Laden mainly played the role of inspirational guide and iconic figurehead – a role better played when dead by American guns than alive, hiding from them.

Consider Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist intellectual who influenced bin Laden and others. Qutb was executed by Gamel Abdel Nasser's dictatorship in Egypt in August 1966, in an attempt to reduce his influence. That tactic backfired badly. Of the 98 fellow Muslim Brotherhood prisoners with whom Qutb discussed his new confrontational ideology in 1964, 35 were strongly supportive, 23 strongly opposed, and 50 hesitant. Despite his intellectual status and prestige, Qutb had failed to persuade the majority of like-minded inmates under conditions of repression.

But, no sooner was Qutb the intellectual executed than Qutb the grand martyr was born. His supporters soon numbered in the thousands, rather than the dozens, and he came to inspire generations, not just individual inmates. Moreover, Qutb was executed by an Arab Nationalist Muslim leader, whereas bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals. That makes a significant difference in the Muslim world.

Imprisonment, followed by recantation of violence, has become almost a trend in several jihadist groups, notably the 20,000-strong Egyptian Islamic Group, factions of the al-Jihad Organization in Egypt, and smaller groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Leading figures in armed Islamist movements have not only abandoned political violence, but have also de-legitimized it as a means for social and political change after spending periods in prison. For example, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (a.k.a. Dr. Fadl), an al-Qaeda ideologue for a decade, published several books denouncing armed activism, both theologically and on tactical grounds, after spending several years in prison.

The same applies to the Islamic Group, a movement implicated in violent acts in almost a dozen countries throughout the 1980's and 1990's, including armed insurgency in Egypt, bombings in the United States and Croatia, assassination attempts in Ethiopia, and training camps in Afghanistan. In the 2000's, the imprisoned leadership of the Group produced more than 25 books aimed at de-legitimizing political violence as a method for change.

Eliminating the "spiritual guide" (as opposed to the organizational leaders) of a militant group might be perceived as a political victory for a government in the short term, but it probably makes a comprehensive de-radicalization process less likely, and it will not necessarily mean the end of the organization in question. For long-term results, capture is almost always more effective than killing.

*Omar Ashour is lecturer in Politics and director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, U.K., and the author of The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements. This piece was provided by Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences.  






Contributor from Fethiye

The day started rather badly for me; my industrious Frau wakes and rises with the sun but I wallow in my pit for an hour or so, until a mean breakfast is delivered. While wallowing, I listen and occasionally glimpse the excellent Mezzo channel on TV until the top of any hour when I change channels to watch the news. Inevitably the news was of the various wars and natural disasters throughout the world, not too cheery but I suppose we are all somewhat anesthetized by our constant exposure to such. The news item that did set back my day was about a "medrese" in Afghanistan where, along with traditional school work, young boys were being taught by the Mullah that "America is the devil" or "Americans are devils", whatever. I thanked goodness for our two wonderful open smiling imams in this green and pleasant village, but still rose after breakfast with a cloud hovering overhead.

The cloud was a bit more than metaphorical. We were to barbeque and entertain a group of 10 Russian tourists in the afternoon so, as is traditional hereabouts; the weather took a turn for the worst. We were teased all day by short periods of bright sunshine, equal periods of gloom and isolated drops of something that may have been rain or possibly insect pee, something to keep us on our toes.

An hour before the event Thor smote us with the darnedest thunderstorm ever. We rescued what we could and, unusually, saved the computer from certain death but could do nothing to save our new digitally flavored TV or the power supply to the entire valley. We decided that the guests would sit indoors and as the only room that could accommodate 13 or so people was in the original 300-year-old part of the house half buried in the mountainside, we then stumbled around in the dark in search of candles.

I have to say that by the time our guests arrived the room was looking very snug and cozy and they accepted the dire circumstances with complete understanding. After welcoming drinks my wife and our Turkish friend Ali began serving the 10 or 15 meze dishes they had prepared, while I continued to do battle with the wood-fired bread oven and the barbeque, which was half sheltered, somewhat dangerously, under the low eaves of the house. The problem was that while attending the barbeque I had to stand directly under the downpour from the eaves, the eaves-droppings?

So, far from the event being a lazy peaceful afternoon in the sun, our barbeque meal was served in a dimly lit overfull room occasionally invaded by a very wet and overexcited old man in a cloud of smoke bearing half-cooked or totally burnt chops, chicken bits or spinach pies while begging for another drink and beating off the dogs and cats.

Need I tell you? The event was a huge success, thoroughly enjoyed by all. We were 10 Russians, one German, one Turk and one Englishman and had shared the camaraderie of chaos and unforeseen circumstances. In a quiet moment I couldn't help thinking of the poor Afghan children being taught to hate their fellow men, but I must tell you that I returned to my pit a much happier man than I had been when I left it.

Hey, guess what Russian children love? You got it ... chocolate, dogs and kittens! 










There must be those in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) who are cursing the day they ever got posted there. For almost its entire history the FIA has investigated much but uncovered relatively little, and it is only in recent times that some of its officers have begun to probe deep into the more sensitive parts of our corrupt society. They have been much encouraged in this by a robust superior judiciary and the NICL and Haj scams have provide rich pickings for those investigators who have the courage to go about their task unflinchingly. Perhaps unsurprisingly the powerful figures and their associates and supporters who now find themselves behind bars are pushing back, with the primary tool of the pushback being to get rid of those investigators who were hot on their tails. There are those within the FIA who are themselves servants of devious masters and do their bidding by 'arranging' for the transfers of the bloodhounds, and the Supreme court has again expressed its displeasure at the FIA's efforts to frustrate justice.

The Haj scam is a national disgrace and one that we should rightly expect to be rigorously investigated and if found guilty the perpetrators must be punished with the full might of the law. But what do we see? Two of the investigators namely Jawed Bokhari and Hussain Asghar who were investigating on the orders of the Supreme Court have found themselves transferred; and the man who transferred them had the barefaced cheek to tell the Supreme Court that they were transferred ' good faith' and that he was unaware of the sensitivity of what they were investigating. That the DG of the FIA should be 'unaware' of the 'sensitivity' is nothing short of preposterous nonsense. He would have known perfectly well what the two men were investigating, and either on his own initiative or at the behest of someone else he had them removed. The chief justice observed that there had been no progress at all in the investigation since the removals. There followed a smokescreen of submissions from the FIA regarding postings, summaries and notifications that served to confuse as well as obscure and the investigation is to all intents and purposes, stalled. The DG FIA submitted a report on the transfers to the court which it unceremoniously rejected followed by a prompt admission of guilt – not to mention incompetence – by the DG FIA. Matters are now adjourned to May 27. Expect little progress between then and now.







The settled realities of geopolitics are going through a period of accelerated change. We are engaged with that change at both the macro and the micro levels. President Zardari has made a state visit to Russia. Beneath the usual diplomatic exchanges about mutual interests, the common desire to foster trade and fight terrorism, there may be an indication that we are realigning ourselves, seeking new positions with other partners. We have already raised our profile with China, signed trade agreements in the last year with Tajikistan and had a useful round of trade talks with India. Russia is energy-rich and exports almost as much as it consumes – we could use some of that as well as looking at Russian markets for our products. Given that this is a new geopolitical front we should not be expecting quick returns.

As one relationship waxes, another wanes. There has been much talk post to the killing of Osama bin Laden as to the fractures there are in the relationship between us and the Americans. The dilapidated state of our co-dependency has been highlighted by commentators and politicians in both camps, and there can be no doubt that we have reached a low point that may yet get lower. A joint session of parliament on Friday emphasised just how far apart we have become when it passed a unanimous 12-point resolution that could be the jump-off point for a range of changes in our relationship with America. Paradoxically, the Bin Laden killing may have spurred our government into displaying a little more resolve than is customary when dealing with America. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) has issued a strongly worded eight point declaration which is a pointer to a redefinition of interagency processes and the parameters of cooperation with the Americans. Decoded, this means ...'You are not going to have it all your own way in the future.' This is overdue but welcome nonetheless. We had an indication of how that redefinition will be portrayed publicly with the cancellation on Friday by General Khalid Shameem Wynne, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, of a scheduled visit to the US to meet his counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen. As our relationship with Russia embarks on a new phase, that with America is undergoing a set of changes that may have far-reaching effects regionally and perhaps globally. In geopolitics nothing is forever and as Russia has demonstrated superpowers are not forever either. There are even the stirrings of change in China. By the end of this year the Arab world may look a bit different to what it was like last year. The Bin Laden killing, while it is a national embarrassment, can also be seen in another light – it has created opportunities for us to reshape our international relationships and to reappraise the relationship between the state and the military. Opportunities we should not allow to pass us by.








Now that Osama is dead and Obama's re-election is in the bag, could we please move on? I hate to rain on the president's victory parade and dampen the endless celebrations in America. but the departure of one long isolated and ailing figure changes nothing.

In the words of Brendan O'Neill of Spiked Online, "all that really happened in Pakistan is that a small group of American soldiers shot and killed an ageing, sickly man in a mansion, who was the nominal head of a small and increasingly fractured terrorist organisation.."

And, I must add, without putting him through useless irritants like a trial or even consulting the so-called sovereign government of the so-called ally Pakistan. Of course, Bin Laden was no saint and may very well have been guilty of the crimes he has been accused of, including the 9/11 outrage. But even OBL, much reviled and hated as he was, deserved a day in the court to explain himself, didn't he? How do we know for sure he's the one who ordered the 9/11 attack? Even the FBI admits there's no proof linking him to 9/11. Where's the body of evidence?

Besides, even Nazi mass-murderers like Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann, responsible for sending millions to their death during World War II, were penalised only after elaborate, and transparent, trials by a UN war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. Adolf Otto Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Jewish Holocaust, who was captured much later in 1960 by Israel's Mossad in Argentina, received a fair trial before being hanged in 1962.

I really hate to bat for someone who in his zeal to avenge the Western crimes against the Arabs and Muslims may have ended up targeting hundreds of innocent people, most of them his fellow believers. But there's something called due process. Every criminal and accused – even the terrorists – is innocent until proven guilty.

This is the principle that is at the heart of the international justice system and no one is an exception, not even the superpower. Following the release of thousands of incriminating US government cables by the Wikileaks, Obama had declared: "We are a nation of laws. We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate."

But law-abiding nations do not go to war over flimsy excuses or send armed commandos to invade a foreign country and blow up the brains of an unarmed man in front of his 12-year-old daughter and dump his body into the ocean.

In doing so, Uncle Sam has once again acted as the prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner, all rolled into one. Not very different from the Texan-style justice celebrated in numerous Hollywood westerns. Might is right. The old jungle law still holds good and the powerful can do whatever they want. Would the Americans try something like this if Pakistan were an equal rival like the old Soviet Union?

Nearly 2,800 people died in the Sept 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Doubtless a heinous atrocity and crime against humanity, for which the perpetrators deserve nothing but severest punishment. What about all those innocents, though, who were killed – and continue to be killed – as a direct consequence of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? More than a million people have perished in Iraq alone and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past 10 years. Who will account and pay for them?

The so-called Operation Geronimo is a very good example of the way this "war on terror" has been conducted. While it has wreaked much havoc across an already ravaged Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that has been the real victim of America's decade-long disastrous campaign. Its once healthy economy is bankrupt; its institutions are falling apart and its complex religious and ethnic mosaic of society is unravelling fast.

The country has been in a free fall since it was forced to join the US war.

It has lost nearly 40,000 people, including 7,000 military personnel, to this conflict. In fact, as early as 2009, Pakistan's toll – 12,000 deaths – had exceeded that of Afghanistan. Last year, nearly 10,000 people were killed as a result of US drone strikes and reprisal attacks by militants.


Despite continuing demonstrations and perfunctory protests by politicians, the pilotless drones continue to hit Pakistan almost on a daily basis, feeding the growing groundswell of anger against America. Last year witnessed 111 drone attacks mostly targeting civilians. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says at least 957 victims of drone strikes in 2010 were innocent civilians.

But you aren't supposed to raise these uncomfortable questions. The reigning superpower and its allies are clearly exempt from laws that apply to the rest of the world. The empire can get away with murder. Indeed, it's Pakistan that is facing the music as US politicians join the chorus to bomb the ally that has given America a free rein to do what it pleases and a virtual license to kill.

Pakistan is teetering on the brink as it bends over backwards to meet the increasing US demands to "do more." In the process, it's forcing more and more young people into the welcoming arms of the extremists.

I sometimes wonder if the Americans, who burst out on the streets to celebrate the killing of Bin Laden last week, really know what their government has been doing in their name around the world? If yes, do they care? How would they react if some unmanned planes sent by another country were to come raining death and destruction over their cities and towns?

In his speech after the Abbottabad adventure, which eerily reminded me of the "Mission Accomplished" bluster of his predecessor, Obama declared that Bin Laden's killing has made the world safer: "It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden." If Osama's exit has made our world a safer place, why it is not safe for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan? Why do they still get swatted like flies?

A day after Pakistan's spineless politicians "warned" the Americans against more misadventures, yet another drone strike killed scores in the northwest as if to rub Islamabad's nose in.

It doesn't have to be like this, though. Obama has a momentous opportunity to turn the page on America's disastrous decade and make a fresh start with the Muslim world. He has repeatedly talked about seeking "a new way forward" with the Islamic world. It's time to show he means it. The so-called Islamic extremism as represented by the likes of Bin Laden is merely a symptom of a far serious disease. And the source of the disease lies elsewhere – in the Middle East. Obama would drive home this message when he hosts Israel's Netanyahu later this month, if he really believes in what he says.










"Did you see the president's article that appeared in a prestigious American daily on May 2?"

"I'm of the humble view that the president is, above all, answerable to his own people and therefore he should have first taken them into confidence on the questions which the death of the Al-Qaeda supremo has given rise to. I wouldn't hold this view if a despotic regime were in place. But a democratic dispensation ought to make a clean breast of it rather than deceiving them regarding the situation."

"Ah, the people! They're no more than a bunch of pushovers, who're easily taken in by demagogues every now and then in the name of religion, ethnicity or democracy. One can sell them anything one wants at the price one asks, simply by playing to the gallery. Besides, no matter which form of government, the people aren't more than passive spectators in the great game of politics. So what they think and how they feel hardly merits attention of the men and women in power save when it's in the interest of those in power. At any rate, politics is the art of letting others know only what they need to know, no more, no less, and for the people it's enough to know that Osama is no more. Whether he was killed as a result of collusion or incompetence on our part is beside the point. The same goes for the drone strikes into our territory. Whether the Pakistani government is in cohorts with the Americans or opposed to the raids isn't for the people to know.

"But then why did the president make an explanation to the American people?"

"In case of the Americans, it's a different proposition. They've been giving us aid regularly and generously. That aid comes from the taxes paid by the public, who are entitled to know whether their hard-earned money is being put to the use it's meant for. Mind you, the Americans are giving Pakistan aid not out of love or charity but to beef up the United States' counterterrorism capability. That's why those at the helm in the Twin Cities ought to be deeply concerned about how the people and opinion-makers in the US look at their role in the war against terror. While the Americans may wink at our incompetence, they'll hardly tolerate lack of seriousness, much less duplicity. It was with a view to removing their skepticism that the president authored that write-up."

"Well, I was told that the president had bylined an article but I was too busy to go through that. What was his thesis?"

"His thesis was that Pakistan, like the US, had paid an enormous price for standing up to extremists and that the Americans could count on our continuing commitment to the stamping out of militancy. In fact, Mr Obama was kind enough to acknowledge, in the statement he made to the press in the wake of Osama's death, our contribution to silencing the source of the gravest menace of the new millennium. The president also made it a point to state in so many words that his own government, including the security establishment, had been in the dark regarding Osama's hideout. And last, but not least, the president had a personal reason to dislike the world's most wanted terrorist for he was behind the assassination of his wife, an icon of democracy, moderation and pluralism in our part of the world, and had also earlier conspired to bring her government down."

"To me, the militants' role in our former prime minister's murder seems to be a cock-and-bull story. But that we can conveniently skip for the time being. The president, I guess, mentioned his deceased wife to bring home to the Americans yet again that if Pakistan is to fight terrorism with might and main, he and his associates should remain in the saddle. It seems he, following his predecessor Gen Musharraf, is interested more in selling his own liberal credentials than the image of the country. But I'm at one with the president when he says that Pakistan has suffered and sacrificed tremendously in the campaign against militancy. But these efforts haven't been enough for it to win American confidence, as the Yankees suspect us of playing a double game. I guess somewhere something is wrong in our counter-terrorism strategy."


"Maybe there's something wrong with the Americans. I think not only are they looking at Pakistan's anti-terrorism role from their own perspective but they're also measuring up their ally's performance by their own standards. Ever since the terrorists struck on 9/11, the Americans made it a point not to let another such incident take place on their soil. Because they are thousands of miles away from the epicentre of religious militancy, they have been successful in that. Ours, however, is a different predicament because we are the epicentre of religious militancy. Then the US regards Al-Qaeda as its main enemy, for the prime mover in the 9/11 was Al-Qaeda, and not the Taliban. But Pakistan's immediate threat emanates from the Taliban."

"You mean the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are different?"


"There is a strong nexus between them as both profess the same ideology. But they aren't the same. Whereas the Taliban are a local organisation, Al-Qaeda is a global outfit. The demise of the Taliban will not root out the Al-Qaeda, though it may weaken the latter. The Taliban do not pose a direct threat to US security, though they are a menace to Pakistan. For Washington, the dismantling of the Taliban is merely a means to that of Al-Qaeda. It may even embrace the Taliban if they cease their support to Al-Qaeda. The US suspects that elements in the security establishment of Pakistan have a soft corner for Al-Qaeda. That Osama had been hiding in a garrison town allegedly for five long years has scaled up these suspicions. That said, Washington is aware that without the support of Rawalpindi it can't dismantle the Al-Qaeda network in the region. As Americans see it, one way out of this dilemma is to make the security establishment subservient to the civilian government. But that's easier said than done."

The author is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@








This month is the 212th anniversary of Tipu Sultan's martyrdom. Fateh Ali Khan Tipu Sultan was martyred on May 4, 1799, at Sringapattan by the combined armies of the British East India Company and the Nizam of Hyderabad in the Fourth Mysore War.

Slowly, we are forgetting (or are being made to forget) our national heroes, our history and our culture. I wonder what percentage of our young generation knows about Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali.

A dear friend, Syed Mahmood Khaver from Karachi, has been engaged in a decades-long crusade to remind us every year of that great warrior and martyr, Tipu Sultan. Mr Khaver is the general secretary of the Tipu Sultan Memorial (Welfare) Society. He organises symposia and invites well-known personalities to throw light on the life of Tipu Sultan.

Hyder Ali was an officer in the Mysore army who later became the state's ruler. Together father and son took part in all the wars against the Marathas and also won important victories against the British in the Second Mysore War. Both Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan used French army officers to train their troops and, one year after the death of his father, Tipu negotiated the 1784 Treaty of Mangalore from a position of strength.

Contrary to Hyder Ali, who always had either the Marathas or the Nizam as his allies when he fought his adversaries, Tipu made some strategic mistakes. Despite advice from senior officers who had served under his father, he took on his united enemies without fully realising the dangers. In 1789 he attacked Travaneore. The Raja of Travaneore, Dharmaraje, had earlier entered into a treaty with the British East India Company. Thus it was impossible for Tipu to succeed against the forces of the current ruler, Diwan Raja Kesavadas, as Tipu also had to fight against the British, who pushed him back. The combined forces of the Marathas, the British and the Nizam of Hyderabad (who had joined hands with the British as Tipu had been threatening him for some time) attacked and wrested Malabar and Mangalore. Thus, in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1799, Tipu was defeated. He was shot and killed by a British soldier outside his Sringapattan Fort. As is well known, Mir Sadiq of Tipu's army played a decisive role in this defeat by betraying Tipu, joining hands with the enemies and closing the gates of the fort when Tipu wanted to retreat for safety there. It was a repetition of Mir Jaffer's treachery against Sirajuddola of Bengal.

Mir Sadiq's teachery was no different from that of other rulers and individuals who can be found throughout Islamic history. The same still continues, from one end of the Islamic world to the other and we are heads above the others in this dirty game.

While Tipu Sultan's Mysore Kingdom was being decimated and destroyed by the cunning British with collaboration from the Marathas and the Nizam of Deccan, Muslim armies under Mohammad Ali Pasha of Egypt were inflicting defeats on the French, the Turks were defeating the British and Abdul Qadir of Algeria was defeating the French at Macta. Napoleon also failed to conquer Egypt and was defeated by Mohammad Ali Pasha. That proved to be the beginning of the end of Napoleon. He was soundly defeated by British troops under the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in Belgium in 1815, taken prisoner and banished to the island of St. Helena, where he died as a prisoner in 1821.

Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish poet and historical novelist, commented on the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814 in these words: "Although I never supposed that Napoleon possessed, allowing for some difference of education, the liberality of conduct and political views which were sometimes exhibited by old Hyder Ali, yet I think he might have shown the same resolve and dogged spirit of resolution which induced Tipu Sahib to die manfully upon the breach of his capital city, with his sabre clenched in his hand." What a great tribute paid to Tipu Sultan for his bravery!

It is reported, though this has not been authenticated, that the day after Tipu's death, his body was put on a gun carriage and taken to his place of burial with full military honours. Soldiers are said to have stood on both sides of the road to present a guard of honour. The purpose of this farce by the British was to win the sympathy of Tipu's followers and admirers.

Tipu Sultan was a good administrator as well as a good warrior. He had inflicted serious damages and casualties on the British in the First and Second Mysore Wars and had shattered the myth of their invincibility. He laid the foundation of a dam across the river Cauvery, where the Indians later built the Krishna Raja Sagora Dam. He also had the beautiful Lal Bagh built, together with roads, public buildings and ports along the shores of Kerala. Traders from Mysore were dealing with countries as far away as Iran and Turkey. Tipu and his father are credited with the innovation of war rockets, which were later copied and improved upon by the British. He had also started minting coins in a sort of banking system, devised a new calendar and a system of weights and measures.

Some British and Indian historians have distorted history to suit their own purposes. They portrayed Tipu Sultan as a fanatical Muslim who prosecuted Hindus and Christians. Nothing is further from the truth. Tipu Sultan was a moderate and tolerant ruler. He was credited with building the first church in Mysore at the request of the French. In 1791 some Maratha horsemen under Ragunath Rao raided the temple of Siringeri, killing and wounding many and robbing the temple of all its valuables. The high priest of the temple sent a petition to Tipu Sultan. The Mysore Archives Department has 30 letters of this correspondence. Tipu Sultan was furious at the plunder of the temple and remarked: "People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date... People do evil deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying." Tipu Sultan immediately ordered a substantial amount and some valuable gifts to be given to the high priest and aid continued to the temple until the death of Tipu Sultan.

It is most unfortunate that we have not only forgotten this great hero but are also oblivious to the fact that our students taking foreign examinations are taught false, concocted and derogatory material about this hero. (See The History and Culture of Pakistan by Nigel Kelly, pages 20-23.) There is an urgent need to drastically revisit our curricula and to bring it into line with our glorious past. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the present to be proud of.








Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP just before the 2008 elections and the elected president of Pakistan soon after, attained both offices simply because he married ZAB's daughter Benazir; and thus attained the status of co-chief mourner along with their adolescent children in the wake of her devastating assassination. When all were dazed and some crazed; he showed that he could deal with trauma at all levels and stepped in to fill the breach. All were ready to defer to the bereaved. Exhibiting an early recognition of legal significance, he soon made public his lost wife's purported will that he lead; and willy-nilly, today the Bhutto name is invoked and the personae conjured up as above common question to sanction and endorse. Parliament has a phantom presence and Pakistan's mainstream political party has been distilled into cultism. Cultism as the modus operandi makes about as big a mess of democracy as coups.

But what did the living Bhutto make of democracy? The dismissal of Balochistan's provincial government comes to mind; as does the Hyderabad Tribunal. The FSF was got going, call it a Caesar's Praetorian Guard or a party chief's civil militia. And enough people thought the 1977 elections rigged to dislodge the party and the chief. These things are remembered, along with the abhorred death sentence, glorious political awakening, and promise that the founder of the PPP embodied and structured so well into a party that it survives to this day despite political misuse by its standard-bearers and unremitting persecution from its foes.

Well before a son-in-law-turned-president, there was another historic Bhutto by marriage: ZAB's wife. Everyone honours Begum Nusrat Bhutto for her valiance that mocked personal danger and transcended indignities. All grieve for her, a woman who bore unspeakably tragic losses as a mother and wife. In terms of the survival of the Bhutto brand in politics, she saved the founder's party matrix for her daughter. Benazir's husband rather than her mother may have gained her ear; especially during Ms Bhutto's second tenure. So iconic did Begum Bhutto remain, that, post-Murtaza's death, Benazir Bhutto kept her mother by her constantly, although it meant keeping her separated from Murtaza's Bhutto children. But now Begum Bhutto's health is destroyed; and in 2011 ZAB's 70 Clifton appears upstaged by Bilawal House as the principal secular urban seat of Bhuttoism.

It was in the year 1988 that ZAB's daughter became the world's first Muslim woman prime minister and reclaimed what is now perceived as her patrimony to dispose of at will. Like her father at the outset, she inspired exhilarating democratic hope. People forgave her more easily for disappointing them, for they expected less of her. Bhutto could have done more for Pakistan than any other leader the country has had. Benazir was propelled by events whereas her father fashioned them. And then, of course, she had none of his tectonic political vision, or intellectual substance. Even at the end of a hangman's noose, Bhutto defined his role. But Benazir was politically defined by her roles as daughter, wife, mother, and that perhaps is why it is her husband in the name of their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, to whom control of the vibrant party she did indeed inherit from her father, has passed.

That may not have been precisely the transition she intended when transacting her NRO deal with General Musharraf.

She knew that the common people – not the power brokers she dealt with – were her strength and cherished the bond. Indomitably courageous, she refused to stay cocooned as advised after the Karsaz blast that set out to obliterate her return. On December 27, 2007, Benazir became the victim of plots for the last time: Whatever she and the people may have hoped for, the 2008 elections gave the people Bhutto's PPP handled by the Zardari genes. And the more they cry Bhutto, the more apparent is the existing PPP bankruptcy – politically speaking, that is.

Was it the outcome of a merger or a takeover? The new party management has kept the brand logo but the product is a makeover. Will the market buy it, come elections?

Or will there perhaps, be no choice? Cultist politics, entrenched and prevailing as a way of life in the national mainstream are known by another name, and it doesn't smell sweet.

The writer is a freelancer.








The writer is a former member of the foreign service of Pakistan.

The briefing given to parliament last Friday by the country's military leadership on the US raid on Osama's hideout in Abbottabad has clarified some of the questions about our failure to detect such a heavy incursion in a military garrison town deep inside Pakistani territory. Essentially, the answer lies in the fact that the Pakistani armed forces are only equipped to counter Indian threat on our eastern borders. US, however, is not India. It is the most powerful and technologically advanced military power in the world.

Besides, we have given the US some of our airports and other facilities, and allowed it to set up a vast intelligence network which not only tracked down Osama but also keeps an eye on Pakistan's nuclear programme; its military capabilities and deployments; and the activities of militant extremists in the country as well as the sources of their support. We cannot do anything about the military superiority of the US but we are not powerless to stop its hostile activities on and from our soil.

Even though the parallel drawn by some of our commentators with the military defeat of 1971 in Bangladesh is misplaced, the fact remains that the nation's confidence in the viability of our defences has been badly shaken. Clearly, there is a need to carry out a comprehensive reassessment of these threats and to prepare ourselves for all eventualities. The most troubling question is whether our nuclear deterrent is safe from a similar US assault.

The public has been confounded by the fact that many of the important facts about the Abbottabad attack remain shrouded in mystery. According to the first statement of our air chief, the high-level radars on our western border were inactive at the time, as the country was not expecting any aerial threat from Afghanistan. A day later, the PAF spokesman refuted this and said the air surveillance system had neither been jammed nor had it been inactive. But he stopped short of admitting that the PAF had failed to pick up the US incursion. At the parliamentary briefing, the deputy air chief explained that the PAF is incapable of detecting aircraft equipped with radar-evading stealth technology that the US used in its raid.

Even murkier are the facts about our response to this intrusion. The foreign ministry's press release on May 3 said that the PAF scrambled its jets within minutes "on receipt of information regarding the incident". It did not say how and when this information was received. In particular, the government has not disclosed whether this information came, albeit belatedly, from our air defence system, or from personnel on the ground after the invading party blew up one of their helicopters. According to the briefing given by the White House, "the Pakistanis were reacting to an incident that they knew was taking place in Abbottabad" – in other words to the ground attack, not the air intrusion.

Besides the failure of our air defences, more information is now coming in indicating that the ISI has been completely outwitted by the CIA and is unaware of the full extent of the intelligence network set up by the US agency inside Pakistan. Without the knowledge of our agencies, the CIA rented a house last year overlooking Osama's compound in Abbottabad and from behind its mirrored windows monitored movements to and from the compound. It is amazing that the ISI was either unaware of the existence of this CIA safe house in a sensitive military area or, being in the know, failed to put two and two together. Perhaps the only positive thing that can be said about this blunder on the part of ISI is that it refutes all allegations of the agency's complicity in providing a sanctuary to Osama.

In the background briefing given to some journalists on May 6, Kayani and Pasha said that US agents had been able to penetrate everywhere in Pakistan because visas were being issued by our embassy in Washington to American spies, soldiers and other such characters without consulting the intelligence agencies. This is not of course the first time that the country's security establishment has expressed these fears. These worries were also voiced generally across the country by the public at large during the Raymond Davis affair.

But Zardari and his cronies who run the country's government are not concerned. He has abdicated all responsibility for national security. As he sees it, his main job as president is to protect and multiply his vast wealth, most of it abroad and unaccounted for. It is for others to lose their sleep over the country's security, if they so wish.

Typically, Zardari has not made any public appearance in the country since the Abbottabad raid. His first reaction on receiving Obama's telephone call on this operation was to congratulate the American president even though the US had acted in clear violation of Pakistani sovereignty and stood ready to engage in combat with Pakistani forces if there was any resistance on their part.

In the two weeks since then, Zardari has only commented once on the Abbottabad raid. In an article printed in the Washington Post, he again expressed his unqualified appreciation for the operation without a single word to express the sense of outrage in the Pakistani public on the violation of the country's sovereignty.

Gilani has the same attitude. With an exquisite sense of timing, he chose to go ahead with a three-day visit to France, together with his family and a large delegation, ostensibly to promote investment in Pakistan. In his speech to the National Assembly on 9th May, he repeated Obama's words that what was in effect an act of political assassination was an act of justice.

Like Zardari, Gilani too omitted to use language even mildly critical of the violation of Pakistani sovereignty by American forces. Even the foreign ministry has not been allowed to lodge a formal protest. It only issued a press release to express its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the US carried out the operation without prior information or authorisation from Pakistan.

Our rulers clearly lack the character and the mettle to stand up to the US. They want to return as quickly as possible to the business of enjoying the fruits of power. But they should know that after Abbottabad, Washington is going to mount further pressure to push their demands through. It has already demanded that ISI identify some of its top intelligence operatives, in particular those of its S Directorate, to investigate if they were involved in protecting Osama.

Pakistan will have to stand firm in rejecting all such demands. We should also be demanding a comprehensive review of bilateral relations in which not only Pakistan's cooperation in the Afghanistan war but also Pakistan's demand for access to nuclear technology at par with India is placed on the agenda. We must also take firm measures to expel the US agents who make up the CIA spy network in Pakistan. If we do not, an even bigger catastrophe than Abbottabad awaits us.

The independent commission being set up to investigate the intelligence and other failures that led to this disaster and to recommend corrective measures should not consist of judges alone. It should have a more broad-based composition comprising experts from the military as well as other relevant fields and its remit should include an investigation of the extent to which the issuance of visas by Haqqani, our ambassador at Washington, to American secret agents contributed to the building up of a vast US intelligence network in Pakistan which now threatens our national security.

Haqqani is right though about one thing. Heads should roll – including his own if it is found that he was instrumental in facilitating the entry into Pakistan of an army of US spies who now roam around in the country unchecked.








The settled realities of geopolitics are going through a period of accelerated change. We are engaged with that change at both the macro and the micro levels. President Zardari has made a state visit to Russia – the first such since the visit of Z A Bhutto in 1974. Beneath the usual diplomatic exchanges about mutual interests, the common desire to foster trade and fight terrorism, there was an indication that we are realigning ourselves, seeking new positions with other partners.

We have already raised our profile with China, signed trade agreements in the last year with Tajikistan and had a useful round of trade talks with India. Russia is energy-rich and exports almost as much as it consumes – we could use some of that as well as looking at Russian markets for our products.

Given that this is a new geopolitical front we should not be expecting quick returns. The presidential visit will be a way-paver for a relationship that will develop long after his government is nothing but (another) bad memory, and it may take a decade to mature.

As one relationship waxes, another wanes. There has been much talk post to the killing of Osama bin Laden as to the fractures there are in the relationship between us and the Americans. The dilapidated state of our co-dependency has been highlighted by commentators and politicians in both camps, and there can be no doubt that we have reached a low point that may yet get lower.

A joint session of parliament on Friday emphasised just how far apart we have become when it passed a unanimous 12-point resolution that will be the jump-off point for a range of changes in our relationship with America.

Paradoxically, the Bin Laden killing may have spurred our government into displaying a little more resolve than is customary when dealing with America. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) has issued a strongly worded eight point declaration which is a pointer to a redefinition of interagency processes and the parameters of cooperation with the Americans. Decoded, this means... 'You are not going to have it all your own way in the future.' This is overdue but welcome nonetheless.

We had an indication of how that redefinition will be portrayed publicly with the cancellation on Friday by General Khalid Shameem Wynne, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of a scheduled visit to the US to meet his counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen.

As our relationship with Russia embarks on a new phase, so that with America is undergoing a set of changes that are going to have far-reaching effects regionally and perhaps globally. In geopolitics nothing is forever and as Russia has demonstrated superpowers are not forever either. There are even the stirrings of change in China. By the end of the year the Arab world is going to look very different to what it did last January.

The Bin Laden killing whilst it is a national embarrassment can also be seen in another light – it has created opportunities for us to reshape our international relationships and to reappraise the relationship between the state and the military. Opportunities we should not allow to pass us by.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:








THE United States has spoken of a greater and what has been called a constructive role of India in Afghanistan saying it would welcome involvement of New Delhi in the war torn nation. The statement comes after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a two day visit to Afghanistan during which he announced enhanced aid to gain further foot hold in the war torn country . The visit took place in the backdrop of the killing of al-Qaida Chief Osama bin Laden during a US raid in Abbottabad that resulted in tension in relations between United States and Pakistan.

Singh's overtures to Afghanistan, including additional aid of $500 million during his high-profile visit to Kabul are aimed at making a role for New Delhi after the departure of NATO/ISAF forces from Afghanistan meaning that India would like to put pressure on Pakistan from the East and the West. He also announced to assist Afghanistan in the construction of dams, roads and power houses and this was a clear message to Pakistan that New Delhi would block the flow of river Kabul that helps considerably in meeting our irrigation water needs. Some political analysts believe that the visit was under taken at the prodding of Washington to show to Pakistan that it has the alternate available to it for stabilizing Afghanistan. The statement made on Friday by US state department spokesman gives credence to the comments of the political analysts in Pakistan that more pressure would be coming from Washington to force Pakistan to submit to US demands. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake was more categorical by stating that Singh's visit to Kabul underscored India's strong efforts to support international efforts to rebuild a secure, stable Afghanistan. Mr Karzai for more than once acknowledged that India has a role in Afghanistan and that is a new emerging threat as Pakistan is being sandwiched. Though in our opinion, what ever New Delhi doles out to Afghanistan, it would go in vain as people of that country are fully conscious that this aid was only and only meant for increasing its influence in Afghanistan and they are not ready to accept any undue foreign presence in their country. Therefore we would caution that Pakistan must keep this in view while evolving its strategy to deal with the emerging situation on our western borders.







IN the backdrop of US raid in Abbottabad during which Osama bin Ladin was killed, a propaganda campaign has been unleashed in the western media that Ayman al Zawahiri and Mullah Umer have been in hiding in Pakistan. In an interview with a US TV channel US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said the US has known for years that the Taliban leaders were living inside Pakistan and it is now being openly stated that either Pakistan should join in raids to target them or it would be done by Washington alone to kill them.

Chairman of US Senate foreign relations Senator John Kerry who is visiting Pakistan in an attempt to balance the relations that have strained after the Abbottabad raid has also stated that his country wants Pakistan to be a real ally in combating militants inside its borders. While talking to reporters in the Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif John Kerry at the same time said there are questions that need to be answered by Pakistan. Earlier he had stated that it was extraordinary hard to believe that bin Laden could have survived in Pakistan for so long without any knowledge. What is surprising is that the United States is putting all the blame on Pakistan without even mentioning that it were the Pakistani intelligence agencies that informed CIA about the courier of Osama bin Laden and by following that lead the American spy agency reached the Abbottabad compound. Reports in the American media also indicate that the CIA was certain that a high value target was hiding but was not sure that Osama was staying there till he was shot dead. It is unfortunate that the CIA Chief took all the credit for himself without even giving a slight credit to Pakistani cooperation. The threat of more raids at targets in Pakistan should not be taken lightly by the concerned authorities and in no case Pakistan is allowed to become a battle ground. Pakistan must now look to the near future intentions of the US which portends ill tidings on the global war on terror. Despite denials by Pakistan, US is propagating about the Quetta Shura and it could indulge in incursions in the shape of Abbottabad raids. Therefore we must redouble out efforts that no high value target takes shelter in Pakistan and if any one is found he must be taken into custody and made public in order to avoid further raids that violate sanctity of our sovereignty.







IT is encouraging that Chief Executive officer of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan Tariq Iqbal Puri has stated that the authority was making all out efforts and out of box measures to achieve $ 24 billion export target during the current financial year.

Country's exports for the first time have crossed the $20 billion mark in the first 10 months of the current financial year. Exports grew by 27.9 per cent to $20.18 billion during July-April 2010-11 as against $15.773 billion in the same period last year. Pakistan's exports in the month of April 2011 were higher by 40 per cent to $2.38 billion, than the level of $1.7 billion during April 2010 which shows that the country has been consistently crossing the $ 2 billion mark for the last five months of the current financial year. This is a significant achievement in the prevailing economic slowdown and energy shortages which led to the closure of hundreds of industrial units. However we may point out that the prices of products have gone up in the international market and as a result the country earned foreign exchange of $20billion in value terms. However at the same time the imports have also registered a significant increase particularly due to massive increase in POL products. We would emphasise that there is great potential for Pakistan to increase exports including textile and food items and the Prime Minister is trying to get greater market access in European Union, China and other countries. If we have to enhance the volume and value of exports, the Government will have to ensure law and order and provide uninterrupted electricity and gas supply to the industrial sector as well as reduction in interest rates to reduce our dependence on foreign aid and narrow the trade gap.










Although the one day closed session of the Parliament on America's Abbotabad brigandage has added nothing much new to our knowledge, nonetheless it was a healthy development. It brought the military face to face with the Parliament. Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan described the I S I Chief, Lt General Shmed Shuja Pasha's acknowledgment of ISI's failure on lack of knowledge of presence of Usama Bin Ladin as " surrendered himself to the Parliament". Perhaps she did not know that this expression is used if a proclaimed offender who comes to the Courts, stops being a fugitive and "surrenders himself" Anyway, we all know that the regime's spokespersons use a language they alone understand.

However, the Session added nothing to what was alreadyt known to the public. It should have been an open session The only thing added to our information was that US had planned that if Pakistan resisted, the US Air Force would attack Pakistan. This shows that US can turn into an enemy without any hesitation and go to any extent against Pakistan. Her claims of friendship and cooperation are hollow, unreliable, deception..

We learnt that the Shamsi Air Base given to UAE on lease, is being used by US as its base for drone attacks on tribal areas. This is a sad piece of information . UAE should be asked to withdraw this facility to US. The sum and substance of the Parliament session was (a) the "unanimous Resolution" calling for review of Pakistan's security and foreign policies(b) condemned the raid and warned that in the event of another US operation, Pakistan would cut off the supply route for the US and allied troops in Afghanistan"..

There is no doubt that the Parliament and public are serious to cut off supplies to US and its allies in retaliation to any further American violation of Pakistan's sovereignty but is the Government also serious in it? There have been Resolutions but they were not implemented. Have the authorities instructed authorities to automatically cut off supplies or each time a raid like this is made we will merely threaten but not implement the threat. Government's resolve to implement this threat remains to be seen..

The other point is how soon the intended independent foreign policy will be implemented. The first step in its implementation will be to immediately stop that close co-operation which existed between the two intelligence agencies. If this continues then our intention would not be taken seriously For a government which came to power through the blessings of that foreign power which they are putting on notice its resolve to translate its declaration into practice need to be demonstrated. It seems that the regime is aware of the charges against it in the public is that it has made Pakistan a US client state. The Government has suddenly realized the need to change its policies. Besides trying to make an alliance of convenience with willing incongruous partners to make up for lack of majority in the parliament, it also made a significant turn in its foreign policy by Zardari going to Moscow as an indication of opening itself to a non-Western major power . This is a good move and one wishes that it would result in change of postures in foreign policy.

However, the first prerequisite for an independent foreign policy is to take steps to live frugally. If we mean business we must immediate reduce superfluous expenditure and do away with feather bedding of unnecessary posts and ministries. The reduction in ostentatious living, the limitation on foreign trips, curtailing liberal foreign exchange transfers. We may not return to the strict foreign exchange control policies but stop liberal flow of foreign exchange . If this is not done right away it would mean that we are not tightening our belts which will be the first indication of our resolve to turn to self reliance. All holders of huge foreign accounts should bring their foreign savings back to Pakistan on the pain of imprisonment if they do not do it within a specified period.. No independent foreign policy can be planned without control on the economy, conserving foreign exchange and drastic reduction of government expenditure. In the absence of enforcement of such strict economic measures all declaration will be pious hopes only. We do not want Grand Mughals as our rulers if we mean to change our foreign policy from subservience to US to independent foreign policy. Saying is easier and implementing the resolve is the proof that we mean business..

Listening to the TV talk shows it s surprising how many anchor persons equate independent foreign policy with a declaration of war on US. They ask whether we can go to war against US How surprising that they do not understand that independent foreign policy does not mean declaring war on US .It only means that our relations will be conducted under the UN Charter and normal international law and practices. There are not just two states in foreign relations; either subservience or going to war. Independent foreign policy only means bilateralism in relations and stop begging from US and the West. It means we will dissociate with the intimate relations ship with US we have at present and start living in our means.

To carry the nation with the new policies first the rulers would have to show by action that they have the backbone to stand the change of life it would entail. Strong backbone of the leadership is first requirement for pursuing independent foreign policies. Tito waged war against Nazi Germany with his country under 20 German Divisions. Fidel Castro, Nasir, Nkrumah, Sukarno etc, led their countries through adversary. In our case we followed independent foreign policy during 1962 to 1977 during "military dictator" Ayub Khan who formulated the slogan Friends Not Masters, and later ZAB. The politicians would deny this as they are busy manufacturing history but as failure of Communism shows manufacturing history to suit their claims is a short term achievement. Let us hope that we will have such leadership to make Pakistan a self reliant country. It needs as its adjunct revising economic policies, industrialization, etc. There is no declaration of war on US to say that we are going to pursue independent foreign policy. It means bilateralism as the new base of our foreign policy. Give and take and not master and servant relationship which this Pak-US cooperation has become.

Our anchor persons forget that Pakistan is a pivotal country in the area. US will face a Dien Bian Phu of yesteryears in Afghanistan if Pakistan dissociates from helping US in its war on terror which has been turned on us too. It is generally believed that one type of Taliban are creatures of US, India and Afghanistan. This is why US is so keen to anchor India in Afghanistan. It wants to encircle Pakistan in the region. India is not the regional leader US wants to create and bow it to its subservience. One hopes and prays that the resolve to change foreign policy is going to be practiced.

At the end one must remind the rulers that the first indication of an independent posture towards US would be to ensure that Usma Bin Ladin's three widows are not handed over to US for the so-called interrogation in their bases. As is reported in the press the US intelligence team was interrogating the three widows in Rawalpindi the same day we were holding the Parliament closed Session on American violation of our sovereignty but in the presence of our intelligence personnel. The manner the American interrogate the "suspect" at Gontanamo Bay , and interrogated Asia Siddiqui , making the suspect naked and all that kind of humiliation- intolerable to Muslims in case of their women – our ethics about the honour and dignity of a woman is very different from American ideas. We should ask the countries whose nationals these three widows are, to take them back and ensure Islamic treatment to them.

Obama should recall that George Bush and Usma Bin Ladin were two sides of the same coin. There would have been no Usama but for a George Bush. To stop terrorism some responsibility rests on US and in this respect US should also examine what changes in their attitude towards Muslim world are necessary. The Supreme Arrogance Policy like raid on Abbotabad contributes to greater alienation.. We have suffered the most in the world the consequences of the war on terror than US. We do want terror to end and return of our region to the peaceful days-as prevailed prior to the Gulf War.







Osama has no following in Pakistan; he is neither idealised nor idolized in Pakistan. Public is not angry on the demise of Osama; after all he had already died many times over; likewise this is not the first time that Americans have ditched us . A common Pakistani is feeling humiliated on the way this chronicle was choreographed.

Brunt of the current public rage is focused towards the armed forces, because nation never thought that the armed forces would fail them. Nevertheless, people of Pakistan have a special attachment with their armed forces. Images of the armed forces reaching out to the needy in their dire times during the natural calamities are etched in their memories too strongly to be erased. They view the armed forces as a fallback of the last resort, and they are not wrong.

People of Pakistan are striving hard to put behind the saga of national shame and gloom; shame because Osama was found on our soil and gloom because we failed to locate him, resulting into a humiliating unilateral intervention by Americans, to which we could not generate a military or political response.

Most of the countries are satirizing our intelligence agencies for remaining oblivious of Osama's presence in Abbot Abad; they are also castigating our armed forces for being caught napping while the US Navy Seals intruded in, completed their mission – 'Operation Geronimo'-, and extricated unchallenged. CIA chief Leon Panetta is singing that either the ISI was complicit or it is incompetent; indeed both of his assertions are wrong. ISI's fatal mistake was its presumption that the CIA would operate within the norms of a fair partner, and that it would not stab at the back.

There is a nation-wide aura of insecurity. There have been some voices in the context of acceptance of responsibility and pledges of not letting it happen again. Though these apologies indicate the moral courage at the highest level of military leadership, these are being taken as hollow evasive manoeuvres and have not found credence amongst the public at large. Perception has it that unless structural and procedural revamping is done, recurrence of similar incidents is only a matter of time. Hence, there is an emerging consensus that this national failure needs a national level scrutiny.

Abbot Abad fiasco was one of the fallouts emanating out of lack of a focused, integrated and coherent counter terrorism policy at national level. For example, Despite being a fine concept and duly sanctioned by the parliament, setting up of 'National Counter Terrorism Authority' could not take off due to inter-department rivalries. This lack lustre approach resulted in non-conversion of piecemeal tactical level counter terrorism measures into a strategic gain.

At intelligence level also, it was indeed a composite national failure; therefore, both military and civilian components of the intelligence setup need to face the scrutiny with the objective of plugging the intelligence black holes.

Intelligence operations are an essential tool of national power projection. A statesman is blind without the inputs of the intelligence agencies. Utmost secrecy is the sine qua non of these operations. Information is shared strictly on need to know basis. Thus, no one knows exactly what the intelligence agencies actually do and how they operate. Certainly, all such agencies do the dirty tricks to outsmart the rivals. Their successes generally do not become public knowledge, at least in immediate timeframe; however their failures get exposed with a loud bang. Intelligence failures are not uncommon; the finest of intelligence agencies have had colossal failures. There is an unending list of failures by Leon Panetta's CIA. It would be worthwhile to take a look at the glaring ones.

CIA failed to provide warning about Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (1941). During Korean conflict, it could not provide information about North Korean attack (1950); rather it assured the US President that the Chinese would not send troops to Korea. Six days later, over one million Chinese troops stormed the war theatre.

When the Soviets shot down an American spy plan U-2 (1960); flown from Peshawar, relying on CIA assessment, President Eisenhower publicly denied the occurrence and the Soviets' accusation of spying. Soviets paraded the plane's pilot and the wreckage of U-2 before the cameras.

The CIA run 'Operation Mongoose' was aimed to assassinate Fidel Castro which failed several times. Moreover, during Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), CIA propagated that Soviet missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were deployed in Cuba; in reality, no such missile with nuclear warheads was ever deployed there.

CIA failed to predict India's nuclear tests in 1974 as well the tit for tat nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan in 1998.

American intelligence failed to foresee the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini which led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. CIA also could not provide any warning of the impending Iranian takeover of American embassy. Later, the rescue plan 'Operation Eagle Claw' by the American forces to rescue the captives of American embassy in Tehran met a disastrous end.

In the same timeframe, CIA's assessments about activities by the Soviet military intentions in Afghanistan were erratic, timely and appropriate warnings were not generated indicating Moscow's intent to invade Afghanistan. By the time the 'Alert Memorandum' was issued on 19 December 1979, the military invasion had already begun.

Likewise, CIA kept napping over Iraqi designs on Kuwait until Iraq overran the entire country in August 1990; just a day before the attack, intelligence assessment indicated that the large Iraqi build up was a bluff. Once again, the CIA's assessment in 2003 that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons in huge numbers was a glaring failure. In fact CIA became a tool to fabricate political intelligence to satisfy the pathological inkling of Bush Junior to invade Iraq.

Once again, the CIA Failed to forestall the 9/11 catastrophe. Consequences of this lapse are being faced by the Muslim world. It resulted in ransacking of two Muslim countries and destabilisation of a number of other Muslim countries.

A refresher on the CIA is just to refresh Leon Panetta on its success rate; periodic failures of Mossad and the RAW are equally mind boggling. Nevertheless, the objective is not to draw solace out of failures of other agencies, or to justify our Abbot Abad catastrophe. We certainly do not have the luxury of a wide margin of errors.

Notwithstanding the momentary set back, as a whole, Pakistan is a wonderful country, having the capability of offsetting Herculean odds. The people and the leadership of Pakistan have the potential of turning the tide. It is too early to reconstruct the exact replication of the mission and draw accurate conclusions; conflicting theories will continue to fog the reality. Factual narrative may never see the light of the day. The uncertainty should not grip the nation indefinitely. While pursuing for a meaningful national level scrutiny of the event, let's march on! Though a serious one, yet a sporadic event should not demoralize us too much and for too long.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.








In its first formal response after the joint session of the Parliament, the Pakistan legislatures have called for a "review of the country's relationship with the US." The review of the policy is considered essential because of the US military operation on Pakistani soil which violated the Pakistani air space without prior permission or a warning. Indeed, this is very serious event in the history of Pakistan after 1971, and considered as a national debacle. The resolution unanimously "condemned the unilateral action... which constitutes a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty". The resolution also urged that if US continue the drone attacks in the coming days, the NATO transit conveys would be banned from using the Pakistani soil. Earlier the Military leadership of the country briefed the law makers about the US unilateral military operation in Abbatabad on May 2, 2011. It was felt by all participants during the course of the discussion, that, indeed, this US action and the statements which preceded it or issued thereafter by U.S officials had the malicious designs, in fact a "campaign to malign Pakistan."

Indeed, this is worth mentioning that over the last few months, US State Department as well as its military apparatus and CIA have launched a well orchestrated campaign against the armed forces of Pakistan and its intelligence setup, especially the ISI. They have created lot of misperceptions about the role of these Pakistani institutions which as a matter of fact refused to accept their demands, considering those as against the national interests of Pakistan. Apart from other factors, the tension in the bilateral relationship of ISI and CIA begin once ISI objected to the issuance of bulk visas to US nationals under the garb of diplomatic corps by Pakistani authorities without clearance of ISI. These visas were issued mostly by Pakistani embassy in US, Interior Ministry and even at time from Pakistani Embassy in UAE even.

It is pertinent to mention that these visas were issued in haste, at time even on holidays. ISI was sceptical to this unusual processing of visas and even shown its written reservations to this business to the Government. Acting as an eyes and ears of the country, ISI could not reconcile with such a heavy diplomatic corps of US in Pakistan, thus started monitoring the activities of these so-called diplomats. The peak hours of this episode reached once the Raymond Davis was arrested on the charges of killing two Pakistanis in Lahore, whom he considered as if they were chasing him during his suspicious activities. It is believed that, despite of US pressure of not to investigate him and he being a non-cooperative, during the period of arrest, Pakistani investigators were able to extract some very sensitive and useful information from this CIA operative, having diplomatic visa even. His linkages with some of the terrorist organizations inside Pakistan were also revealed during the initial investigations.

Logically the event should have been closed with release of Raymond Davis, after giving blood money to the relatives of those killed. After all Pakistan made a great compromise on this release, otherwise, he should have been tried as per the law of land and could have received the death penalty. But, US anger was more prominent thereafter, and it was demonstrated in the form of killing of over 80 innocent Pakistanis in North Waziristan in a drone attack just two days after the release of Raymond. Then there started a series of accusations on ISI, by top US officials like Admiral Mike Mullen, right on the Pakistani soil for having alleged linkages with Afghan Taliban. The accusations were reinforced by the leakages of the Wiki leaks, which revealed that US has grouped ISI in the list of terrorist organizations. The differences between these spying networks become so odd that, ISI Chief, General Pasha felt so uncomfortable during his visit of CIA Headquarters, that he has to shorten his scheduled trip to US.

The CIA driven world-wide media campaign against ISI was indeed aimed at defaming this premium intelligence agency to a level that any future happening could be in conformity of the US conspiracy theories. The South Asian and Pakistani media, which always toe the Western and US line, also projected the theme against ISI on many occasions. Since the realist and patriotic people of Pakistan were not in sync with waves of conspiracy against ISI and armed forces of Pakistan, therefore, the Abbotabad incident was planned and executed to make people believe. As stated by Leon Penatta, the CIA Director, immediately after the Abbotabad fiasco, that, either Pakistani spying network is incompetent or part of providing shelter to OBL. In either case, the statement is aimed to put down the ISI and armed forces of Pakistan in the eyes of Pakistani masses, besides, international community.

Since the label Pakistani security establishment got from US (CIA Director) that, "being either an accomplice or incompetent." The question arise, as to why causing such an embarrassment for the armed forces and ISI, by an ally. These prestigious Pakistani institutions have after all served US purposes during long years of the cold war and now during a decade long of so-called war against terrorism. The fact of the matter is that, over the years, these institutions became so strong and well organized that U.S would have neither desired nor could digest them. As a major power, U.S would desire that armed forces of Pakistan and its intelligence setup to comply its orders, which in most of the cases are against the national interests of Pakistan, thus, refused on various pretexts. This repeated refutation of the Pakistani military establishment has irritated and infuriated the sole super power, otherwise unfamiliar with listening to nonconformity.

Furthermore, traditionally, the people of Pakistan have great respect for their armed forces and ISI, and have always look towards them during trying moments. This love of the Pakistani masses with its armed forces has proved the real strength of armed forces, indeed forming national strength altogether. US found armed forces and the masses on the same page in pursuing the national interests of Pakistan. This act of national unity could not be digested by US and all other anti-Pakistan forces. Therefore, this US military operation, "Geronimo" to haunt the OBL was planned and executed to create dissatisfaction among the masses, which they thought would lead to create cracks between armed forces, politicians and the general masses.

Despite of its hectic media campaign and pressure tactic, followed by military operation on May 2, 2011, it appears that, US remains much shorter than the desired objectives. Rather Pakistani nation has gained more strength and was able to bring a unanimous resolution for safeguarding its national interests and in backing its armed forces and ISI. The event is unique in a way that political and military leadership are on the same page to deal with external forces.

—The writer is an International Relations analyst.







One of the most high profile cases of miscarriage of justice and wrongful convictions in the history of Pakistan is the conviction and consequently the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. A horrible wrong, ungrudgingly acknowledged by the friends and foes of Bhutto and the world community. History also regards Bhutto as a victim of miscarriage of justice and wrongful conviction, but that is not enough to wipe off the stigma of criminality attached to his name. As they say a wrong remains a wrong until it is formally rectified. The reference made by president Zardari to the Supreme Court under article 186 of the Constitution to seek its advisory opinion, ostensibly is a move in the same context. The debate raging in the media and the political circles regarding the desirability of such a reference at this belated stage and the perceived motives behind the reference are very intriguing and do warrant an objective appraisal.

Firstly, there is a viewpoint that since all the available avenues of seeking justice in this particular case have already been exhausted there was no justification for sending such a reference to the court. The opinion may be technically correct but it does not put a seal of finality on the whole affair in view of the fact that several nations recognizing the reality of miscarriage of justice and the new evidence obtained through employing scientific methods, have evolved credible mechanisms to rectify those wrongs to satisfy the demands of justice. In UK a remedy has been found by setting up a Criminal Cases Review Commission. In USA also hundreds of convicts have been exonerated on the basis of credible scientific evidence which was not available at the time of the trials. In South Africa the Reconciliation Commission paved the way for a new beginning. In our case also a way has to be found to strengthen the judicial system and also to evolve new avenues of rectifying the miscarriage of justice. The Bhutto case could perhaps help us in finding and traversing the desired course. Secondly, the elements emphasizing the futility of the exercise at such a belated stage and attaching different motives to it also seem to have completely misunderstood the government initiative.

The government has not asked for revisiting the entire case as is being perceived. It has only asked the court to give its opinion as to whether Bhutto"s conviction was right and in conformity with the law or not? As to the objection regarding delay in filing such a reference, one may say that it is never too late if a question of ensuring justice to a wrong fully convicted person is concerned.

Thirdly, there are elements who have a cynical view of the entire episode. Cynicism is a state of mind when all the mental faculties to distinguish between good and bad, are obscured and the person suffering from it can see nothing but only the dark side of everything.

In any society, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature are all collectively responsible for the quality of justice provided to the people and thus are under obligation to improve the system, minimize the avenues of miscarriage of justice and also to exhibit flexibility in embracing new concepts that help in the achievement of the objective of unadulterated justice to the people. The executive has taken the initiative in this direction by sending the reference to the Supreme Court.

It is encouraging to note that the Supreme Court has also exhibited its commitment in this regard by entertaining the reference and forming a full bench to give its opinion on the question of law in this particular case and also asked eminent jurists to assist it in answering the questions raised by the government.








Osama bin Laden's many victims include, first and foremost, those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and their grieving families, the soldiers sent to war and the loved ones they left behind, and a new generation forced to grow up in a more polarized and paranoid world. For all of them, bin Laden's death must bring a sense of relief, of justice finally served. But his victims also include millions of American Muslims — or Americans suspected of being Muslims — for whom the al-Qaida leader's death means something different: the chance to finally reclaim our faith and our identity.

In the fall of 2001, shortly before the terrorist attacks, I left New York City to attend business school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As a 25-year-old Muslim man with a dark complexion, I fit the stereotypical terrorist profile perfectly — and after al-Qaida struck, the world never let me forget it. On Sept. 12, my new roommate asked me what my religion was. He moved out the next day. A week later, a menacing mob of men chased me and two female Hindu classmates of mine for three city blocks, yelling that we were "Taliban." And the week after that, my parked motorbike was smashed by a car that, according to a witness, drove over it again and again.

The harassment would soon get worse. At San Francisco International Airport in October 2001, a Northwest Airlines pilot refused to let me board his plane; according to Northwest's gate agents, he thought my name sounded suspicious. Even after the police, airport security and the FBI verified that I posed no threat, the pilot still refused to let me on the plane, and Northwest Airlines added me to a no-fly list. From then on, every time I tried to fly, the FBI was contacted. My arrival at an airport triggered such an extensive security rigmarole that I didn't fly for more than a year. I decided not to visit relatives in Bangladesh. I missed my parents' 30th wedding anniversary. And I logged many, many miles on Amtrak and in my Subaru. I could not understand this. I was born in the United States and had worked as an investment banker in the very buildings that were destroyed on 9/11 — the World Trade Center and the Deutsche Bank building next door. New York was full of my friends, family and coworkers. I am Muslim, but beyond that I have nothing in common with the psychopaths who flew planes into buildings. So I did what any American would do when faced with injustice: I sued.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the D.C.-based law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, I filed a claim against Northwest for violating my civil rights. The lawsuit lasted three years and was brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit — one step below the Supreme Court. The case was stymied when, in 2005, the Justice Department decided that my questions about watch-lists ventured too close to sensitive security information and that no evidence supporting my complaint would be shared in court. Though in late 2002 my name was removed from the no-fly list and I could board planes again, I was denied a full hearing. During my lawsuit, I met men and women who had suffered far worse at the hands of the government or their neighbors, and were no less innocent. All of us were victims of the ignorance and fear that followed 9/11, emotions that stemmed from an act orchestrated by one man: Osama bin Laden. That's why, because I value peace as well as justice, I am glad bin Laden is dead.

Bin Laden's violence and rage brought out the worst in his followers and his enemies alike. Worse yet, he became the face of Islam for much of the world. People such as my Pittsburgh roommate knew nothing of Islam before 9/11. (When he asked me my religion, I answered, "Islam." He said, "Oh, good — I was worried because I thought you were a Muslim." He left when he realized they are one and the same.) For many people in the United States and elsewhere, a 1,500-year-old religion became forever intertwined with terrorism and with one man's twisted interpretation of his faith.

And that view of Islam was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard. I grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut, attending Islamic school on Sundays. I visited Mecca in 1997. I go to prayers with my family during such holidays as Eid al-Fitr. At no time was violence, intolerance or hatred part of my Islamic experience or education. Islam was mundane, and my religious education probably little different than Sunday school for a Christian child or Hebrew school for a Jewish one. My childhood mosque's biggest concern was hyper kids running around unsupervised, while my biggest concern was seeing the girl I had a crush on. Islam is a major religion practiced by more than 1 billion people of many different cultures. Unfortunately, its militant minority has come to represent us all.

Islamophobia in America seemed to hit a fever pitch in recent months with the controversy over the mosque in Lower Manhattan and congressional hearings on whether American Muslims were becoming "radicalised." Yet, neither terrorism nor Islamophobia will end with bin Laden's demise. In the short run, prejudice may get worse. The press' and the public's fascination with the gory details of his killing — and the demand for more details and images — reflect a nation collectively fantasizing about killing bin Laden and, by extension, Muslims. This past week, a Portland mosque was vandalized with messages such as "Osama today, Islam tomorow (sic)" "Long live the West" and "Go Home."

Despite this, I'm hopeful. Bin Laden's death is symbolic, but symbols matter. Islam has long been burdened by its association with one angry man. Now this weight has been lifted. In time, Muslim Americans like me may no longer be linked to two burning, crumbling towers, but to Muslim youth throughout the Middle East revolting against tyranny. After all, the protesters in Egypt and Syria are demanding things that America celebrates: freedom, respect and equality. Maybe now, Muslim Americans can enjoy them, too. The writer, an entrepreneur, is the chief executive of ClearGears, a performance-review software company.

— Courtesy: The Washington Post









LEE Kuan Yew recognises the need for generational change.

EVEN at 87, Lee Kuan Yew's announcement that after half a century in government he is finally quitting Singapore's cabinet, was unexpected. Most recently he has served as Mentor Minister and the dominant force in the administration led by his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong. A few months ago he exhorted older Singaporeans to work longer and not become a burden on the state, adding that if he were ever forced to stop work he would shrivel up.

That this political giant of our region has chosen to leave is clearly not because he particularly wants to but, rather, a consequence of last week's election result. The ruling People's Action Party, though it won in a landslide -- gaining 81 of the 87 seats, with a record six going to the left-of-centre opposition Workers' Party -- achieved its worst outcome since independence in 1965. It won 60 per cent of the popular vote, down from 67 per cent in 2006 and 75 per cent in 2001.

Mr Lee says he will remain an MP. But in announcing his departure and that of his understudy Goh Chok Tong, 69, who succeeded him as prime minister in 1990, Mr Lee wisely recognised the generational change that flows from the election. The time had come, he said, for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation. Prime Minister Lee, he added, should be given a clean, fresh slate to connect to and engage with this younger generation.

Lee Kuan Yew is right. He has no shortage of critics, particularly among those who believe he was too heavy handed in regulating the lives of Singaporeans, seeking to control everything from the number of babies they had to their toilet-flushing and gum-chewing habits and what they read in their newspapers. But his is unquestionably a record of mighty achievement that leaves most countries in the region for dead. He has transformed a mosquito-ridden backwater with no resources into one of the world's wealthiest and most stable societies with a per capita income of $48,000 and growth last year of 14 per cent, imbuing Singaporeans with an enviable ethic that encourages them to work hard and eschew so-called welfarism, which he scorns. Younger Singaporeans want things done differently. The challenge will be to satisfy them without compromising the extraordinary prosperity that Mr Lee's endeavours brought. It won't be easy.





SENATOR Fielding's backflip has angered indigenous leaders.

FAMILY First leader Steve Fielding will leave an unfortunate legacy when his Senate term expires next month. His eleventh-hour change of heart over Tony Abbott's bill to wind back Queensland's controversial Wild Rivers laws will almost certainly see the Opposition Leader's legislation defeated, along with the aspirations of Cape York traditional owners who want real employment opportunities to break the cycle of welfare dependency.

Nobody denies the importance of pristine Cape York rivers and their surrounds, which traditional owners were looking after long before white settlement. But they do not need heavy-handed legislation imposing severe restrictions on any development near the rivers or catchment areas to ensure their environment remains healthy. They desperately need the chance to achieve self-sufficiency.

At stake are important projects such as the cultivation of native pongamia trees near the Lockhart River to provide diesel biofuel, an ideal niche industry for the area. A bauxite mine that would have provided more than 1300 jobs for unemployed indigenous people at Pisolite Hills near Weipa on the western Cape has already been scuttled by the Queensland legislation, which was imposed by the Bligh government to appease urban green groups such as the Wilderness Society.

As Cape York Institute director Noel Pearson wrote on Saturday, Senator Fielding travelled to Cape York with Labor senator Mark Furner but did not visit the people most affected by the laws, who live near the Lockhart, Stewart and Archer rivers. The senator rejected an approach to meet representatives of the local communities.

On its website, Family First claims to understand "that most of us have simple yet important aspirations. We want to earn a living doing work we like so we can provide for our families and someday own a home." In siding with urban, anti-development environmentalists to sink Mr Abbott's bill, Senator Fielding will ensure that Cape York remains locked up from productive enterprises that would give local people the chance to aspire to the very values Family First purports to uphold.

There is, however, one crumb of comfort from Senator Fielding's late discovery of the wilderness. It is there that his political career is heading.





Labor's road back towards the politics of reform

AN unenthusiastic reaction to last week's budget has added to the gathering mood of pessimism enveloping the Gillard government. The Prime Minister has faced unrelenting pressure for the first 19 weeks of 2011, a year she pledged would be the year of delivery, tempting some commentators to discount her chances of survival. We note, however, that barely a year ago the consensus among the commentariat was that Tony Abbott was unelectable. Julia Gillard should take the insider chatter with a pinch of salt and get on with the business of governing.

Her first task is to rise above the fatalism that has settled on Canberra and remember that good governments set agendas rather than allow events to dictate terms. Ms Gillard must make long-term decisions that would make Labor once again the party of reform. Labor should learn from the example of Bill Hayden, who restored sanity to economic management in 1975. It was far too late to save Gough Whitlam but it laid the foundations for Labor's return to power eight years later.

Second, Labor must govern in the long-term national interest, rather than simple political expediency. Labor's achievements between 1983 and 1996 meant embracing difficult policy solutions that tested the nerves of some party loyalists. The results, however, speak for themselves.

Third, the government must draw on the sagacity of longer-serving ministers such as Craig Emerson, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson and former ministers such as Graham Richardson whose astute observations in The Weekend Australian on Saturday contained advice that Labor would be foolish to ignore. Dr Emerson's insistence that immigration should match economic conditions would have seemed unremarkable two years ago, but the bipartisan retreat to a small Australia was one of the least attractive developments of last year's election.

Fourth, Labor should stop apologising when it gets it right. Tightening the cap on middle-class welfare was a positive feature of last week's budget, and Treasurer Wayne Swan should have trumpeted this check on recurrent expenditure, much of which is the legacy of John Howard. Voters never say no to a handout, but they are astute enough to know that someone, somewhere has to pay, and unless government expenditure is kept in check, there can be no relief to cost of living pressures through tax cuts.

Tellingly, in an interview on the ABC's Insiders yesterday, which should have been an opportunity to bask in post-budget glow, Ms Gillard responded to gentle questioning by mentioning Mr Abbott nine times in familiar, pre-rehearsed answers. The best place to expose Mr Abbott's populism on issues such as middle-class welfare and immigration is from a sound platform of her own built on rational, long-term strategic policies.

Labor's problems are all the more acute because of a finely balanced parliament, which will become even harder to negotiate in July when the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate. But Labor will be writing its own obituary if it wastes any more time with the petty retail politics of set-top boxes or pink batts. A firm focus on the long-term national interest is the best, and only, hope Labor has of saving its skin.







THE decision of the NSW Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, last week to refer the Barangaroo development for independent review bought him time on one controversial front. He also announced that more than 60 other development proposals left undecided by his Labor predecessors would be sent back to local councils to decide. Under Labor, far too many such projects were deemed to be of state significance under Part 3A of the Planning Act, allowing them to bypass local government oversight. This placed too much power in the office of one state government minister.

The O'Farrell government has decided to scrap Part 3A, but has yet to determine what will replace it. It has declared that local government should handle all residential, commercial, retail and coastal development proposals. Yet it has retained control of the bulk of backlogged cases. Many of these are expected to be dealt with by an independent body established by Labor, the Planning Assessment Commission.

Should more of the backlog be handed back to councils? The corruption scandal in Wollongong illustrates the dangers of that path. But the more power Hazzard retains in this area the greater the temptations and dangers will be. The commission will need much greater resources if it is to be seen as a credible forum for determining major projects. As for the future, Hazzard says he will be ready in a couple of months with a new set of qualifying criteria and planning approval procedures for projects claiming state significance.

Barangaroo, which will change the face of the state capital, was always one such project. But local proposals like the Coogee Bay Hotel redevelopment, which was approved by Kelly in December and kept secret until Labor's election defeat in March, never was. If a proposal like that is knocked back the developer can always try another municipality or shire, or go interstate. Sydney is big enough to say no sometimes. But there are situations, especially in infrastructure development - dams, roads, power stations, and the like - where local preferences are inevitably overridden. That is as it must be.

Developers have become adept at putting big price tags on their projects and then bleating that a rejection will cost the state accordingly. But price tag alone should not be the criterion for acquiring immunity. ''State significance'' is a status best reserved for a handful of projects that, though possibly unpopular with locals, are essential to NSW's future. Nothing less than world's best practice for resolving this type of conflict is what the O'Farrell government must deliver.





ALMOST a year after the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, backed away from Kevin Rudd's ambition for a big Australia, her government has made public its policy formally killing the concept. Rudd had responded to a Treasury projection that Australia might have 36 million people by 2050. Gillard eschews targets. Instead the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, argues for a strategy that focuses more on steering immigrants to regions where they are needed. This is good in itself. But at a time when Australia faces a new frontier of economic prosperity, it also shirks some hard questions.

The first is how debate about population and immigration has become corrupted by our political leaders' crude approaches to asylum seekers. It began under the Howard government, but leaders from both sides have since competed to show how tough they are in protecting Australia from perceived dangers from new arrivals. The Gillard government's new strategy deploys key words - sustainable, liveable, well-being - the way advertisers dazzle people with comforting jingles.

Recent fires, floods and droughts are evidence enough that we must not overburden our fragile environment with more people than it can support. But Australians also want prosperity that can only come from economic growth. A bipartisan and business consensus has long accepted that large-scale immigration drives such growth. Even while Howard was publicly demonising boat people, his government was quietly pumping immigration to record levels.

Another question the strategy dodges is Australia's ageing population. The Treasury projects there will be just 2.7 people of working age to support every person aged over 65 in 2050, compared with five last year. How will the vacuum for skilled workers be filled? Sending immigrants to regions and outer suburbs is only part of the answer (16,000 skilled immigrants have been so earmarked in the 2011-12 intake of 185,000). Burke's talk of cutting motorway congestion to "bring mums and dads home from work faster" sounds a bit chimerical. Governments must first invest in modern transport systems, without which new settlers will have little incentive to go there and existing residents will only resent the added pressures from those who do.

In a nation of immigrants, polls show most people want less immigration. Here politicians should lead, not follow. Australia's capacity to absorb people from all over the world has been one of its great success stories. We deserve a mature debate about population from our leaders, one that does not shy from setting targets or from accepting that such targets inevitably will rise or fall depending on labour demand.






THE state Arts Minister, Ted Baillieu, also happens to be Premier: a combination that augurs well for culture, especially in budgetary terms. It helps to be treasurer, too, but you can't have everything. On Thursday, Mr Baillieu announced details of the Coalition's $24 million funding package for the Victorian College of the Arts - an institution brought into being in the early 1970s by the late Sir Rupert Hamer, another Liberal premier-and-arts-minister hybrid. Central to Mr Baillieu's plan for the once-beleaguered college is the transformation of Melbourne's arts precinct from what he called ''a parking lot of arts institutions'' to ''a crucible of artistic energy'', bubbling with constant activity and change.

It is heartening to see the government has responded swiftly and generously to its assurance, made in opposition during last year's election campaign, not only to save the VCA but also enrich it - ensuring its financial security and re-establishing its reputation as primarily a creative institution: a purpose blurred by recent attempts by Melbourne University to impose aspects of its controversial Melbourne Model on the college. Happily, as the Premier indicated on Thursday, the college's studio-based training methods will be preserved.

They will also be strengthened by the government's package, which includes scholarships to outstanding students, support for disadvantaged students, a national music theatre and cabaret program, and more specialised projects, including puppetry and digital media. One of the most important parts of the package is the establishment of a national graduate opera program in partnership with Victorian Opera. This project, designed to give students performing experience with the professional state opera company, at once provides essential practical experience as well as the paving of possible career paths. As with the arts precinct itself, the more ingredients in the crucible, the better.

In the long term, which is the enduring by-product of cultural investment, the college has been paying artistic dividends for more than four decades. Its thousands of graduates work on and off stages and film sets and studios the world over. Supply may inevitably always outstrip demand, but supply there must be, for the good of culture and the broadening of the human mind. Mr Baillieu, clearly conscious of this, said as much to the students and staff of the VCA: ''I know you don't live here forever. You get to pass through … something which will change your lives.'





THE race for the US presidency is a marathon. Election day is 18 months away, but the first serious challenger has formally entered the race. Newt Gingrich led the Republican revolution of the 1994 midterm elections, winning their first majority in four decades with him as speaker. The return of the 67-year-old, who left Congress as a polarising figure in 1999, reflects a wide-open contest for the right to challenge Barack Obama. For all his difficulties, the incumbent Democrat still leads the field.

A lot can happen between now and November 6 next year, but the President's re-election prospects are much brighter than many thought possible during the great recession. Leaders of the Tea Party movement, which energised Republican voters and helped win back control of the House in midterm elections, are struggling with the responsibilities of office. Recent polls confirm a year-long increase in the number of Americans, now about one in two, who have an unfavourable view of the Tea Party, compared to one in three with a favourable one. The Tea Party influence over the Republican base may prove to be a handicap for winning the political centre. The Democrats are overtaking the Republicans in generic polling for Congress.

Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann is among voters' least favoured presidential prospects and trails Mr Obama by more than 20 points. He has majority support and leads of between 12 and 27 percentage points in all head-to-head contests with Republicans, including frontrunner Mitt Romney. Mr Gingrich trails by 18 points and Sarah Palin by 19. Before he can make up that deficit, Mr Gingrich will have to overcome conservatives' misgivings about his two divorces and hypocrisy in having an affair (with his future third wife) while leading Republican attacks over Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct.

Of course, Mr Obama is enjoying a poll bounce after ordering the raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. A 60 per cent approval rating last week is a two-year high. That's unlikely to last, but the bolstering of his security credentials may. Even approval of Mr Obama's handling of the economy has edged above 50 per cent.

The economy is still the key factor in next year's election. Job growth has been encouraging, with 244,000 people hired last month - the biggest gain in five years - and 768,000 this year. Yet the unemployment rate is 9 per cent and many households are struggling to get by, just as Congress wrestles with a mind-boggling federal debt. The Republicans are threatening a stand-off over the $US14.3 billion federal debt ceiling (this includes Treasury liabilities to other federal entities), which would bring government services to a halt. That could backfire on Republicans, as it did 15 years ago.

Mr Clinton was resoundingly re-elected after Mr Gingrich had led Republicans in shutting down government. The Clinton administration restored a surplus, but, after 2000, the Bush administration's tax cuts and two wars funded from borrowings were the biggest elements - four times the cost of Mr Obama's stimulus package - in a $US12.7 trillion turnaround from Congressional Budget Office projections in 2001. Mr Obama's policy decisions added $US1.7 trillion in debt and the recession's effects cost the budget $3.6 trillion.

As a proportion of the economy, taxes may be at a 60-year low and debt at a postwar high, but Republican policy is limited to spending cuts. Speaker John Boehner is demanding ''trillions, not billions'' in cuts, and has the Obama healthcare reforms in his sights. The campaign may show - as Tony Abbott knows - that voters who claim to resent paying for welfare react differently when it's their welfare at stake.

Republican candidates will also suffer the distractions and damage of bruising primaries battles, with voting from January 31. Mr Obama is free to run his own re-election campaign for the next 18 months. Economic recovery would just add to the degree of difficulty for a Republican recovery.








A major survey, which we report on this morning, explores attitudes around the full arc of the grim reaper's scythe

For Larkin, unresting death twitched at blackened curtains, and in Britain dying has often been the stuff of private nocturnal anxieties, as opposed to conversation lit by day. A major survey, which we report on this morning, explores attitudes around the full arc of the grim reaper's scythe. Despite signs of some mortal taboos losing their grip, when it comes to chewing over the practicalities of breathing our own last, most of us are as inhibited as ever.

Even business-like issues are often passed over in silence. More than a third of us say we have never asked any relative whether they have written a will. And the reticence is of another order entirely when it comes to more intimate expectations, concerning funeral arrangements, the final form of care we will want or where we would prefer to die. The six in 10 people who say they have never spoken to another soul about the last of these is striking, since this is one area where bottled up wishes reliably end up being wishes frustrated. Across the whole population, fully 70% tell strangers with clipboards they would rather die at home, and yet the official figures record that more than one death in every two ends up being in a hospital bed.

Some of this great gulf between what is wanted and what ends up happening, one might imagine, reflects a failure on the part of the healthy to think through where they will truly want to be when they are in an incomparably frailer condition. Perhaps. But the fear of leaving the world in an alien and medical environment runs deep – almost as many told the Dying Matters study that they fear a hospital death as said the same of dying alone or falling prey to violent crime. And indeed, more report a particular shudder at this particular prospect than the idea of the grave itself.

This government, like the last, agrees things ought to change. Whitehall strategies have aimed to make sure they do. The chance to die at home, after all, is one meaningful way to fulfil the politicians' well-worn rhetoric about patient choice. It could spare relatives the worry of back-and-forth travel to the ward at a fraught and typically miserable time. And here, for once, is a social problem whose principle solution is not money. A review before the summer will identify certain priority investments required in order to make dying at home more comfortable, but freeing health service beds from people who are never going to be serviced back into health would save resources in the end. No, the chief obstacle to dying better is nothing as worldly as cash. The real trick is finding the courage to face up to the inevitable, and then opening up as well. If we could only do that, then we could plan – before it is too late.





Within hours of the news breaking that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been charged, France began to talk about the him in the past tense

The presumption of innocence is a legal principle, but not, alas, a political reality. Within hours of the news breaking that Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been charged with sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a room maid in a New York hotel, France began to talk about the IMF chief and possible presidential candidate in the past tense. There was at least one immutable political reality guiding this. Presidential candidates for the Socialist party have two weeks from the end of June to the middle of July, to put their name down. Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyer said yesterday his client denied all the facts on the charge sheet. But he would have to do much more than this in a very short space of time to declare his candidacy and salvage his political career, and the wheels of criminal justice do not turn that fast. The assumption is that both his candidacy and his political career are over.

In the maelstrom of comment that his arrest generated, the plight of the alleged victim was soon forgotten. It should never be. This is about justice not the careers of high fliers in politics and finance. The scandal deals a grievous blow both to the IMF and to French politics. Mr Strauss-Kahn, the fourth Frenchmen to run the IMF, is regarded both as a competent and progressive head of an organisation at a crucial time in attempts to stabilise the world economy. He struck out against the high priests of neoliberalism by focusing on employment and recognising that countries facing speculative pressure could use capital controls as a defence. But this was work in progress and the tough conditions imposed on Greece and Ireland have caused many to question how much of the old thinking has really changed. With interest rates on Greek bonds continuing to soar, Mr Strauss-Kahn's removal could not have come at a more vital time for Greece and the IMF. The flurry of official statements yesterday reflected that concern. The IMF put one out saying it was fully functioning.

French politics are plainly not. As Nicolas Sarkozy has sunk further in the opinion polls, DSK, as he is known, was looked upon (not just by the right wing of the Socialist party) as the only man who could unseat the French president. He had yet to throw his name into the hat, but had he done so, he would have been regarded as the leading Socialist candidate. There could not have been a better moment for him politically. The outgoing president was discredited, the Socialist party in disarray – unable to overcome the turf wars of its warring barons. With a stint at the IMF behind him, he would have been the ideal man to lead France out of the financial storm. He was not without a history. There had been a string of sexual indiscretions, and a well-documented taste for the good life. In Britain he would have been called a champagne socialist. A photograph of him and his wife climbing into a Porsche in Paris was enough to stir controversy, even though the car turned out not to be his. But a bling-bling president challenged by a vroom-vroom socialist? None of this would have been enough to stop him roaring down the road that led to the Élysée, not so much a grand chemin as a six-lane autoroute.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's removal leaves the Socialist party in shock – not, it has to be said, for the first time in the party's recent history. The man who will inherit Strauss-Kahn's mantle as a moderate is François Hollande, who prefers scooters to Porsches. His former partner, Ségolène Royal, refuses to rule herself out, learning nothing from her last ego-fuelled attempt on the presidency. Emergency conclaves of the socialist baronry are, however, meat and drink to the far right, particularly Marine Le Pen. She will have little difficulty claiming that Mr Strauss-Kahn's fall from grace sullies not just one individual's career, but a whole elite. Whether justified or not, the far right could well make hay with it.






They come in strange apparel which lends the magic of longevity to greater but more controversial institutions

Old Englande has bequeathed quaint heirlooms which lack much in the way of logic for staying in being, and yet work rather well. One is the civil parish, the most local form of local government, which is the privilege of 37.5% of England's population. It comes in strange apparel which lends the magic of longevity to greater but more controversial institutions such as the monarchy and House of Lords. Civil parishes have ducked the brickbats of reformers; indeed they have been re-energised in modern times. Dating back to the Norman manorial system, they were given extra powers in the great town hall upheaval in 1972. More areas became eligible. Oxford has set up four in the last 30 years. Even Londoners, except in the City, have been able to create them since 2008, and only last week the initial community petition was submitted for a council in Queen's Park, Westminster. Especially noteworthy in today's referendum-rich times, a mere 10 electors can force a local poll on anything at all in a civil parish; a remarkable piece of direct democracy when you consider that qualifying areas include Hereford, Salisbury and Weston-super-Mare, the largest with a population of over 70,000. There does not have to be a formal parish council; a properly called public meeting suffices. And yet this power is little-known and less used. That is understandable in Chester Castle, and the six other parishes which have no inhabitants, but not elsewhere. Which is why we hope to see them flex more muscle and spread.




            THE JAPAN TIMES



During the Golden Week holidays from April 28 to May 8, a total of some 78,000 volunteers worked in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to "disaster volunteer centers" set up by local governments in the prefectures.

On and after May 9, however, that number dropped sharply. On a peak day, there were some 11,000 volunteers, but by May 8 the number had plummeted to some 5,000.

Two months after the disasters, more and more helping hands are needed to remove debris, help evacuees move to temporary housing and give health, hygienic, psychiatric and other care to nearly 115,000 people still living in temporary shelters.

Construction has either started or is about to start on 9,660 temporary houses in Iwate, 11,309 in Miyagi and 9,264 in Fukushima. People are expected to begin moving into these houses next month.

In Fukushima, people who were evacuated from areas around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are already moving into temporary housing in large numbers. Among them are elderly people who need help in moving.

It is feared that the decreasing number of volunteers will lead to a reduction in the number of staffers at disaster volunteer centers that dispatch volunteers to help people.

There is also the fear that the knowhow for doing volunteer work that has accumulated over the past two months may not be passed on to new volunteers. The central and local governments, enterprises and universities must cooperate in maintaining a steady flow of volunteers to the devastated areas.

The education ministry has urged universities to give credit to students who do volunteer work. Enterprises that can afford to do so should encourage workers to serve as volunteers by giving them special paid holidays.

In the 1995 Kobe earthquake, some 600,000 volunteers came and worked in the first month. Only 190,000 volunteers came to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefecture by the end of April. Greater efforts are needed to increase the number of volunteers.





Four people, including two young boys, have died and nearly 40 other people have been hospitalized for food poisoning after eating at six restaurants in Kanagawa, Toyama and Fukui prefectures. More than 20 of those hospitalized are in serious condition, some suffering from kidney dysfunction.

The restaurants are part of a Korean-style barbecue restaurant chain headquartered in Kanazawa. It is believed that shredded raw beef known as yukke caused the poisoning.

A type of colon bacilli, O111, which causes bleeding from intestines, has been found in some of the victims. They visited the restaurants during the period of April 17-26.

The incident has damaged people's trust in food safety. Raw beef is popular with some customers. Strangely enough, though, no records have turned up of the nation's slaughterhouses shipping beef designated for eating raw since fiscal 2008.

The restaurant chain says it received email from the wholesaler in May 2009 saying it was going to send a beef sample suitable for yukke and that "trimming" — scraping off surface meat to prevent food poisoning — was unnecessary.

The wholesaler says it did not send beef intended for eating raw. It is regrettable that the two parties are blaming each other. Clearly neither party was careful enough about keeping hygienic standards high.

The restaurant chain admits that it did not trim the meat or carry out bacteriological examinations. The chain also had a questionable practice of serving the same raw meat for two consecutive days if some remained unsold.

The wholesaler used the same knives and chopping boards for cutting ordinary meat and internal organs. The health ministry has detailed standards for preparing raw meat for consumption. But they provide no punishment for violations and it is unclear to what extent restaurants follow standards.

The ministry should quickly work out penalties and set up a system to closely examine the whole process for preparing meat. Consumers should keep in mind that fresh meat can be contaminated with deadly colon bacilli.






NEW YORK — He has been called "a real Jew hater" and a "real anti-Semite" by former Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat. However, few musicians have done as much for peace between Israelis and Palestinians as Daniel Barenboim, the noted Argentine-born Israeli orchestra conductor. It will be only through efforts like his that peace can eventually be reached in the Middle East.

On May 3, Barenboim conducted a concert in the Gaza Strip. The orchestra included musicians from Germany, Austria, France and Italy, who played the concert "as a sign of our solidarity and friendship with Gaza's civil society," Barenboim said in a statement released by the United Nations, the concert coordinator.

In 1999, together with Palestinian-American professor Edward Said, one of the most prominent Palestinian intellectuals worldwide, Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, a youth orchestra based in Sevilla, Spain, with musicians of Egyptian, Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese-Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian background.

To The Guardian newspaper Barenboim said: "The Divan is not a love story and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn't. It's not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance, a project (to demonstrate how essential it is for) people to get to know the other — to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it.

"I am not trying to convert Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, or Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to — and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward [Said] died a few years ago — create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives."

Barenboim is no stranger to controversy. On July 7, 2001, Barenboim led the Berlin Staatskapelle in part of Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde" at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, despite Wagner's music being unofficially taboo in Israel's concert halls.

Originally, Barenboim had been scheduled to perform the first act of "Die Walkuere." But facing strong opposition from Israel Festival's Public Advisory board, which included Holocaust survivors, Barenboim agreed to substitute Wagner's music with Robert Schumann's and Igor Stravinsky's.

At the end of the concert he regretted his initial decision and decided to play Wagner as an encore, inviting those who opposed it to leave the concert hall. After strong debate, 50 attendees walked out and 1,000 remained, applauding enthusiastically after the performance.

Barenboim has performed before in Palestinian territory. In 1999, he performed at Palestinian Birzeit University. In January 2008, after a concert in Ramallah, Barenboim accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship, a decision strongly criticized by Israeli authorities.

Following these events, the leader of the Shas Party stated that Barenboim should be stripped of his Israeli citizenship. Barenboim considered it a big honor to have been given the Palestinian passport.

Barenboim's visit to Gaza was conducted in defiance of Israeli law, which bans Israeli citizens from visiting Gaza. With this concert, Barenboim and his orchestra did more than bring hope to hundreds of thousands of people who feel neglected by the world; they proved music's power to exalt life over war.

Cesar Chelala, M.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.







PRINCETON, New Jersey — When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March, Brian Tucker was in Padang, Indonesia. Tucker was working with a colleague to design a refuge that could save thousands of lives if — or rather, when — a tsunami like the one in 1797 that came out of the Indian Ocean, some 1,000 km southeast of where the 2004 Asian tsunami originated, strikes again. Tucker is the founder and president of GeoHazards International, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce death and suffering due to earthquakes in the world's most vulnerable communities.

Padang is one of those communities. Just to its northwest, in Banda Aceh, 160,000 lives were lost in the 2004 tsunami. Now, geologists say, the fault that triggered that tsunami is most likely to rupture farther south, putting low-lying coastal towns like Padang, with a population of 900,000, at high risk of a major earthquake and tsunami within the next 30 years.

In Banda Aceh, the tsunami killed more than half the city's population. In Padang, according to an estimate by the director of the city's disaster management office, a similar tsunami could kill more than 400,000 people.

Tucker says that he has stood on the beach in Padang, looking out at the ocean and trying to imagine what it would be like to see a five-meter-high wall of water stretching across the horizon, bearing down on the city. Now that we have seen the footage of the tsunami that hit Japan, the demands on our imagination have been lessened — except that we have to imagine away the sea walls that Japan had built to reduce the impact of the tsunami.

True, those walls did not work as well as had been hoped, but Japan was still far better prepared for a tsunami than Padang is. In Padang, even with advance warning of a tsunami, higher ground is too far away, and the narrow streets too choked with traffic, for many people to get to safety.

GeoHazards International is therefore working on a more practical idea, which it calls a Tsunami Evacuation Raised Earth Park (TEREP). The idea is to build small hills in low-lying parts of the city, with level tops that could be used as parks or sports fields. With the few minutes' warning that an earthquake's strong shaking would automatically provide, people could walk to a TEREP and be safe above the highest level a tsunami could reach.

Such raised earth parks are a low-cost solution to the tsunami danger in low-lying coastal areas. They use only local materials, provide a valuable community resource in normal times, and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives when a tsunami strikes.

Nevertheless, GeoHazards International lacks the resources to build anything like enough TEREPs to meet the need. After 20 years of operation, the organization remains tiny, especially when compared to organizations like the Red Cross, which primarily do disaster relief work. People are willing to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to help people after a disaster — even after a disaster in a wealthy country like Japan — but are unwilling to invest anything like the same amount to save lives before a predictable disaster strikes.

One reason for this is that preventing a disaster does not make good television. People give to identifiable victims. If we build raised earth parks, we will never see the people who, but for our aid, would have died; no orphans in desperate need will appear on the nightly news. But isn't it much better to keep parents safe than to help orphans after their parents have been killed?

This is a situation in which we must stretch our imagination, to understand and be motivated by the good that we are doing. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that.

Another reason why we do not give to prevent disasters should be familiar to anyone who has ever delayed going to the dentist because the prospect of serious pain in the coming weeks or months just wasn't as motivating as the reluctance to face some more immediate slight discomfort. We tell ourselves that maybe we won't get a toothache after all, even though we know that the odds are that we will.

Most of us are not very good at giving proper weight to future events, especially if they are uncertain. So we may tell ourselves that the geologists could be wrong, and perhaps no tsunami will hit Padang in the next 30 years, and by then perhaps we will have new and better technologies for predicting them, giving people more time to get to higher ground.

Instead, we should be guided by the best estimates of the chances that an intervention will save lives, as well as by the number of lives that would be saved, and the cost of saving those lives. The evidence suggests that building raised earth parks in places like Padang is very good value indeed.

Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. His most recent book is "The Life You Can Save." © 2011 Project Syndicate







Citizen News Service

NEW DELHI — In 1945 the catastrophe was inflicted by the enemy. In what remains to date the most horrendous attack on human beings, more than 300,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and many more went on to suffer because of radioactivity-related ailments. But today Japan's catastrophe is self-inflicted.

What makes this tragedy more ironic is that the Japanese had resolved not to develop a nuclear-weapon program because they did not want to see any other population suffer the way they did in 1945. In spite of this noble resolve, the Japanese chose to go ahead with a large nuclear energy program. They never imagined that their nuclear power plants would one day bring back the nightmares of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to haunt them.

There seems to be no end to the horror at Fukushima. The emergency crew is working to contain the damage round the clock but new reports of radiation releases pour in every day. In a ridiculous attempt to allay public fears, first the Tokyo Electric Power Co. reported a radiation level in water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant's reactor No. 2 to be 10 million times higher than the permissible limit, causing panic among workers, but it later retracted it claiming it to be erroneous and stated that the radiation levels were in fact only 100,000 times higher. Should that be considered a cause for relief? Even that level can be fatal for humans.

Already radiation released by this accident has affected water, soil and food in this area and has probably made the area inhabitable for some time to come, and people have been forced to evacuate by the government. One can only salute the emergency crew members who are trying to bring the plant under control knowing full well the dangers that their government is exposing them to.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki people had no choice as they were caught unawares. In Fukushima, the scientists who built the nuclear power plants were well aware of the dangers involved in this technology. The Japanese government has put its population to tremendous risk by adopting its nuclear-energy program.

Japan has begun seriously researching renewable energy options, and hopefully it eventually will rely more on technologies that are safer, cleaner and cheaper to meet its energy needs. Japan has resolved to become a low carbon society in the near future; now it must commit itself to be no-nuclear society too.

The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has shaken popular confidence in nuclear energy as never before. Countries that were toying with the idea of either starting or reviving their nuclear-energy programs are now having second thoughts. It is people's awareness that has prevented a single new nuclear power plant to be built in Europe and the United States for the last 25 to 30 years. Nuclear power plants are turning out to be the most costly and dangerous method of producing electricity. Most developed countries that have them will be phasing them out in the coming years.

One compelling reason for phasing out nuclear-power programs is that scientists have not been able to figure out how to safely dispose of the radioactive waste created by the plants. The spent fuel is cooled in pools and continues to pile up.

The most common hazards faces by human beings due to exposure to radiation are cancer or leukemia and genetic mutations that can affect future generations. The high doses of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear plant may not prove to be immediately fatal to workers involved in the cleanup, but it is likely to manifest itself in the form of cancers later in life and could even impact the workers' future offspring. In short, such people will suffer through no fault of their own.

Japanese energy policymakers should be held responsible for the resulting misery as no government has a right to expose its citizens to radiation hazards. They should adopt safe technological options for producing electricity. Citizens should have a role in determining the energy policy of the government, and well informed public debate must precede decision-making.

Consider the nuclear power plant at Narora in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh state. It is situated on the banks of the Ganga River. In 1993 there was a major fire at this nuclear power plant, and it was only sheer luck that it did not get out of control.

If an accident of the scale that took place at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal (1984) happened at the Narora nuclear plant, it would jeopardize all life along the banks of the river for much of the breadth of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. Depending on the direction of wind, Delhi could be affected too as it is merely 50 to 60 km from there.

We must not play with nature. The safest place for uranium is underground. This radioactive material must not be mined. There are better ways of producing electricity to meet our energy demands, and some energy demands could be filled without utilizing electricity. Hence a wise and sane energy policy must be developed in consultation with the people.

Dr. Sandeep Pandey leads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).







CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — At the U.S. Federal Reserve's recent and first-ever public press conference, Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a spirited defense of the Fed's much-criticized policy of mass purchases of U.S. government bonds, or "quantitative easing." But was his justification persuasive?

Most economists viewed his performance as masterful, but the fact that the dollar has continued to slide while gold prices have continued to rise suggests considerable skepticism from markets. One of the hardest things in central banking is that investors often hear a very different message from that which the central bank intends to send.

The Fed, of course, has been forced to turn to "Q.E.," as traders call it, because its normal tool for fine-tuning inflation and growth, the overnight interest rate, is already zero.

Yet U.S. economic growth remains sluggish, and is accompanied by stubbornly high unemployment. Q.E. has been blamed for everything from asset-price bubbles to food riots. Everyone from foreign finance ministers to cartoon satirists has ripped into the policy.

Critics insist that Q.E. is the beginning of the end of the global financial system, if not of civilization itself. Their most telling complaint is that too little is known about how quantitative easing works, and that the Fed is therefore taking undue risks with the global financial system to achieve a modest juicing of the U.S. economy.

Whether the critics are right or not, one thing is clear: With the Fed lagging other global central banks in the monetary-tightening cycle, and with rating agencies contemplating a downgrade of America's credit score, the U.S. dollar's purchasing power has sunk to an all-time low against the currencies of trading partners.

Bernanke's defense at the press conference was robust and unequivocal. He argued that Q.E. is not nearly as unconventional as its critics claim.

If one looks at how it has affected financial conditions, including long-term interest rates, volatility and stock prices, Q.E. looks an awful lot like conventional interest-rate policy, which we think we understand. Thus, concerns about Q.E.'s supposed ill effects are wildly overblown, and there is nothing especially challenging about eventually reversing course, either.

Bernanke dismissed complaints about commodity prices and emerging-market inflation, arguing that these phenomena had far more to do with lax monetary policies and overly rigid exchange rates in fast-growing developing economies.

The Fed chairman's comments come at a critical and sensitive moment. Over the next year or so, the Fed is likely to enter a tightening cycle, raising interest rates on a steady and sustained basis. It does not want to rush, because the U.S. economy is still weak, with first-quarter growth a lackluster 1.8 percent But it cannot wait too long, lest inflation expectations drift to a dangerously high level, forcing the Fed to move aggressively — and at the cost of considerable economic pain — to wring inflation out of the system.

In unwinding Q.E., Bernanke must avoid another land mine, namely an unwelcome collapse in asset prices. Many savvy Wall Street traders are convinced that Q.E. is just the old "Greenspan put" on steroids. The cult of the "Greenspan put" stemmed from the previous Fed chairman's avowed belief that the Fed should not try to resist a sharply rising stock market, except to the extent that such a market undermines the long-term stability of prices for ordinary goods. But if the stock market collapses too quickly, the Fed should worry about a recession and react aggressively to cushion the fall.

Are traders right? Is Q.E. merely the sequel to the "Greenspan put"? It is certainly the case that today's super-low interest rates encourage investors to pour funds into risky assets. The Fed probably would argue that it is the job of regulators to make sure that asset bubbles do not induce too much borrowing and an eventual debt crisis, though of course monetary policy has to be in the mix.

Given the sluggish recovery, Bernanke could have gone even further and argued that the Fed is the one who has it right. Other advanced-economy monetary authorities, such as the European Central Bank, might be over-reacting to short term inflation volatility.

However, perhaps not wanting to cause problems for his foreign counterparts, Bernanke took a more cautious approach, merely defending the Fed's policy as the right choice for America.

In defending the Fed's policy, Bernanke had to be careful not to say anything that might overly alarm investors. Indeed, there is already reason enough for them to be nervous: After all, the Fed's epic easing of financial conditions must eventually be followed by exceptionally painful tightening. Will the economy be ready when the time comes?

Explaining the inevitable shift to tightening could prove a far greater challenge than explaining the exceptional accommodation of quantitative easing.

The Fed must always remember that no matter how calm and rational its analysis may be, it is dealing with markets that can be anything but calm and rational. Precisely because so much emotion has been invested in Q.E., the psychological effects of returning to normalcy are going to be perilous and unpredictable.

Kenneth Rogoff is professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2011 Project Syndicate







With the onset of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis following the March 11 Tohoku-Pacific earthquake, radioactive substances continue to seep into the sea, air and soil. Residents within a designated proximity of the plant will likely have to live away from their homes a long time. The prospect of the situation returning to normal is nowhere in sight.

Although the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the ill-fated plant, have worked out plans to pay compensation to victims of the crisis, it appears they are interested less in protecting people from radiation than in preserving the existing semi-monopolistic system of the power industry and in enabling the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan to survive.

Japan has 10 electric power companies, each of which is given a monopoly of generating and distributing power within a designated region.

Some observers say the government and Tepco have sought to "trivialize" the effect of the Fukushima accidents by working out a scenario in which the power company, which should bear the total responsibility, survives with "public funding." The public at large ultimately picks up the whole bill.

Under that scenario, a new organization would be established to help Tepco oversee compensation payments to nuclear accident victims. The new body would guarantee the survival of Tepco. Not only would the government fund the new body but also the other regional power companies with nuclear plants — by chipping in their share as insurance premiums for future accidents.

Even by selling its assets and cutting executive and employee remuneration, Tepco would not be able to pay all compensation claims resulting from the Fukushima plant accidents. The eventual financial burden would be borne by people in the form of taxes and higher electricity rates.

One factor that has given rise to this haphazard scenario is the need to prevent feared chaos in the financial market if Tepco were to go under. Tepco's share plummeted from the pre-accident price of around ¥2,100 to a mere ¥292 at one point after March 11. Although it recovered to nearly ¥500 after the government's support program and Tepco's road map for bringing the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control were announced, further damage to the reactors or serious radioactive leaks could very well make Tepco shares worthless.

Tepco's interest-bearing liabilities, including corporate bonds, total more than ¥7.3 trillion, most of which is owed to insurance companies and financial institutions, both private and government-owned. The biggest lender is the Development Bank of Japan, which is 100 percent state-owned. It has lent more than ¥300 billion to Tepco.

Shortly after the Fukushima plant accidents, major banks committed another ¥2 trillion in credit lines to Tepco, including ¥600 billion from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

Should Tepco go bankrupt, not only would the Japanese financial market be thrown into an utter chaos, but international markets would lose their trust in Japanese banking institutions to the extent that the institutions would have to pay higher interest rates to secure funds.

If worse comes to worst, Tepco share certificates would become worthless sheets of paper for 600,000 shareholders as well as for many corporate pension funds that have included Tepco stock in their portfolios. The steep drop in Tepco's stock price has already dealt a blow to investment funds in the United States. Nearly 20 percent of its stock is held by non-Japanese investors. This has reportedly led the Obama administration to urge the Kan government to take steps to prevent a further decline in Tepco stock.

Tepco is now attempting to divert public opinion away from its responsibility for the nuclear crisis to the need to secure a stable supply of electricity. Shortly after its Fukushima power station was damaged, the company announced that it would have to impose "planned rolling power outages" to make up for reduced power generation.

By emphasizing that abandoning nuclear power generation would lead to prolonged outages, Tepco sought to convince the public that it is better to rely on nuclear power generation than endure power outages and that it is time to help Tepco with public funds. This is an ultimate form of defiance by Tepco.

Industrial circles, especially manufacturing, were thrown into a panic by the government's plan to make it mandatory for major electric power users to reduce consumption by 25 percent this summer. This could be a matter of life and death for manufacturers whose activities are already hindered by the disruption of production at component suppliers located in areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. This fear has served to change the attitude of the business community from one of criticizing Tepco to seeking stable power supply.

It is clear that Tepco President Masataka Shimizu, who for health reasons failed to make a public appearance for some time after the Fukushima No. 1 crisis developed, is not fulfilling his job. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata parried questions at a recent news conference to explain Tepco's road map for action to end the Fukushima crisis. Tepco's top management appears dysfunctional and in need of leadership. There is the strong view that this dysfunction led to errors early on that exacerbated the crisis. Katsumata said at the news conference that he was not hesitant about pouring seawater onto the nuclear reactors to cool them after the quake-tsunami. But other sources point out that if he is telling the truth, the seawater would have been used a half day or more earlier.

Tepco's corporate structural problem, which led to the Fukushima accidents, surfaced in the spring of 2002 when a whistle-blower revealed that Tepco managers had covered up troubles found at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and falsified reports to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Subsequently, similar irregularities were reported at the Fukushima No. 2 plant and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture. These incidents created so much anger among municipalities and citizens that Tepco was forced to suspend the operation of all its nuclear plants. Katsumata and Shimizu are able executives in normal times but are not of the caliber to exercise crisis leadership.

Questions have been raised in many quarters, notably business leaders abroad, as to why Shimizu or Katsumata does not take command at the Fukushima No. 1 plant site, where hundreds of people — firefighters, Self-Defense Force personnel as well as employees of Tepco and Tepco subcontractors — are braving radiation risks to do repair work. Without the presence of Katsumata or Shimizu, how are workers suppose to lift their morale?

As Tepco's top executives appear unable to judge which is more important — the frontline (Fukushima No. 1), the Tepco headquarters or the prime minister's headquarters, they are snuggling up to the government. The people in Tepco's top management today have forgotten to pay attention to electricity users and local residents living near power stations.

Tepco, which has survived until now through collusion with the government, has lost the honorable face as the leader of the power industry. It is wandering about.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the May issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic issues








The central government should rein in provincial and regency administrations that have been agitating, sometimes even resorting to threats of violence, to support their demand to acquire a sizeable portion of the assets of resource-based ventures in their areas.

Allowing such a renegade and hostile attitude on the part of regional administrations will only heighten the legal uncertainty about investing in the development of natural resources, validating fears that imbroglios could trap businesses in the regions.

Last week, East Java Governor Saifullah Yusuf threatened to stop access to the West Madura offshore oil and natural gas block in a strong protest against the central government, which turned down the demand of the provincial administration for a 40 percent stake in the oil and gas field.

Saifullah even warned the government that provincial and regency administrations would campaign to turn locals against the oil and gas development.

The government instead approved a request last week for state oil and gas company PT Pertamina to buy 80 percent of the shares and Kodeco the remaining 20 percent of the block.

Late last month, the West Sumbawa regency administration sponsored massive demonstrations against PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara's (NNT) US$3.8 billion copper and gold mine because it was not allowed to acquire an additional 7 percent stake in the mine.

In North Sumatra, provincial and regency administrations have also geared up for a concerted campaign to acquire the bulk or all of the 59 percent equity (worth about $725 million) currently held by a consortium of 12 Japanese companies in the Asahan aluminum smelting company (Inalum) near Lake Toba.

The government, which owns 41 percent of Inalum, has decided not to extend its joint venture with the Japanese investors that is set to expire in October 2013 and will instead take over the Japanese-held shares.

Following the examples of the West Nusa Tenggara and East Java administrations, the provincial and regency administrations in North Sumatra would also most likely go all out, even using brinkmanship tactics, to get a sizeable portion of Inalum shares.

Regional administrations' demands for buying shares in resource-based businesses such as mining ventures located in their areas do not make any sense at all as they simply do not have the financial capacity, nor the managerial capability to buy assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most regional administrations still depend on grants from the government for around 80 percent of their annual budgets. Worse still, most of their financial accountability reports still get qualified opinions and, in many cases, even disclaimers, from the Supreme Audit Agency.

There are therefore strong indications that regional administrations only acted as a front for private business groups buying shares of resource-based companies.

Take for example the acquisition of a 24 percent stake in NNT by the West Nusa Tenggara and West Sumbawa administrations. It was a unit of the Bakrie Group that put up almost all the money for the acquisition.

Likewise, the East Java administration seems to have also lined up several private companies to back up their asset acquisition move.

Even if several of the regional administrations in resource-rich regions have the financial capacity, they should invest their funds primarily in education, health services and basic infrastructure to stimulate private investments and generate jobs.

After all, the regional fiscal law entitled regional administrations to 15.5 percent of revenues from oil, 30.5 percent from gas revenues and 80 percent from forests, fisheries and other minerals.





Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: The bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity. But when the scientists returned to the site to collect more material for analysis, they were shocked to find the tree, and its promise, gone.

Its disappearance triggered a frantic scramble to locate further specimens. Finally, a tree collected 100 years earlier was located in Singapore's Botanical Garden. Subsequent studies revealed its bioactive compound, canalolide A, to show great potential in treating AIDS. An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people.

This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia's forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor. Given Indonesia's biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn't policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities? Why can't it be Indonesian scientists unlocking the value of these natural treasures and Indonesian companies turning them into commercial products?

After all, it is not coal mines, acacia pulp plantations, and oil palm estates that make Indonesia unique — it is biodiversity and cultural heritage, neither of which can be replaced. This is important because both Indonesia's ecological and cultural richness are fast disappearing, casualties of a Western development model that mostly benefits local elites and outside interests and run roughshod over traditional resource management and the livelihoods they enable.

Sure, converting thousand-year-old rainforest into cash crops yields some short-term profits, but what is the long-term strategy? What happens to palm oil prices if Brazil makes good on its plan to establish more than 5 million hectares of oil palm plantations on non-forest land? Will the most attractive markets discriminate against palm oil that is produced in ways that result in social conflict and environmental degradation?

Markets are already changing. It is increasingly clear that consumer-facing companies, especially in the West but also Brazil, do not want to be associated with social conflict and deforestation. These represent reputational risks to big companies.

For example Indonesia's largest palm oil producer, PT SMART, lost tens of millions of dollars in business from Unilever, Kraft, and Nestle after being linked to deforestation and conversion of peatlands. The company has since adopted a new forest policy that is among the strongest in Indonesia, prohibiting the conversion of peatlands and rainforests, and requiring free, prior, and informed consent from communities.

These shifts are also happening outside of Indonesia. In Brazil, soy producers and cattle ranchers — who account for the vast majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon — have recently implemented safeguards after protests from some of their largest customers.


Nearly 100 million Indonesians are dependent on ecosystem services for things like food, clean air and water, housing and fuel.


Brazil's cattle industry — the largest in the world — was brought to its knees virtually overnight when giant customers said they didn't want their leather and beef tainted by deforestation and labor abuses.

Furthermore, governments are beginning to enact laws consistent with trends in the private sector. The United States and Europe have recently passed amendments to the Lacey Act and FLEG-T, respectively, to crack down on timber, paper, and wood products that have been sourced illegally.

These regulations do not impose new restrictions on timber harvesting in tropical nations; they merely hold U.S. and European companies responsible for following laws in producer countries. So if timber is illegally logged in Indonesia, it is illegal to sell in the United States.

Despite these trends, Indonesia has been slow to officially define its moratorium on new forest concessions. What's the hold-up? Put simply, the vested interests that have long taken advantage of a system that enriches them at the expense of most Indonesians are fighting to maintain the status quo.

Some may be paying lip-service to the moratorium, but behind closed doors they continue to push for business as usual. In some cases they have gone as far as to hire foreign consultants like Alan Oxley of World Growth International to concoct dubious reports to defend a Western (non-Indonesian) development model that depends on unsustainable resource extraction and mainly benefits big companies rather than generating government revenues or improving the lives of Indonesian citizens and communities.

We've read the claims: implementing the moratorium will cost 3.5 million new jobs a year and throw millions more into poverty. But has anyone actually looked at the data?

Indonesia's forestry sector does not create anywhere near 3.5 million new jobs per year. The entire Indonesian economy generated 2.5 million new jobs in 2010 and the forest products and plantation industries account for less than 6 percent of the economy, according to government data.

If anything, as Indonesia's economy matures and modernizes, forestry will continue to decline in significance as a growth engine for the economy — services and knowledge, not bulk commodities, will be drivers of growth. Besides, the moratorium aims to boost productivity on existing lands and restore productivity to degraded lands, not abandon growth.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, which offers to pay Indonesian governments and communities for reducing emissions by preventing further loss of its forests and peatlands, has its flaws but it represents an opportunity to leave the old model, which denigrates Indonesian culture and biodiversity, behind. It offers the chance to embrace the things that make Indonesia unique, while improving the lives of all Indonesians.

Better stewardship of forest resources — through community management and land rehabilitation — will help Indonesia capitalize on new markets for ecosystem services, of which carbon is just the first.

Indonesian business should be leading the transition: Companies that demonstrate environmental stewardship and good community relations — not the lowest cost producers of bulk commodities — are poised to become global leaders.

Finally, let's not forgot how much Mother Nature offers Indonesia. According to the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, an E.U.-backed research initiative, nearly 100 million Indonesians are dependent on ecosystem services for things like food, clean air and water, housing and fuel. Ecosystem services account for 2 percent of Indonesia's GDP — larger than the entire forestry sector — and 75 percent of GDP for Indonesia's rural poor, a bigger lever for poverty alleviation than plantation agriculture and logging combined.

Biodiversity itself also has value. Remember that the oil palm is a product of rainforest biodiversity — it originated in the forests of West Africa. But will continued deforestation destroy the next potential oil palm or the next anti-HIV drug before it is discovered?

Will Indonesia turn away from what truly makes it unique — its rich cultural heritage and biodiversity — to model the mistakes in the Western developmental model, or will it be a part of developing a new global model for combining prosperity with sustainability?

It's up to Indonesians to decide.

The writer is a journalist who founded, a forest-focused website. He is based in San Francisco, California, but spends a lot of time in Indonesia






There is moderate Islam like there is moderate Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or even Marxism. However, lately we have been confronted mostly with "radical Islam" or worse "terrorism" in the name of Islam.

Islam, an ancient religion born in the Arabian Peninsula during late antiquity and related to an older Semitic religious tradition to which Judaism and Christianity also belong, has recently become a brand name for various bomb and suicide attacks.

Minority radical Muslims have hijacked Islam to justify their new radical faith. According to those radicals, the current world has deviated from the truth of Islam. Democracy embraced by most nations in the world, including Muslim nations, is seen as incompatible with Islamic dogma.

Moderate Islam, practiced by moderate Muslims around the world for 1,500 centuries, seems to have become extinct. Islam, like any other religion in the world that teaches spirituality and life after death, appears to challenge the current order of the world and to replace it with that of an "imagined" ancient religious dogmatic society.

Islamic radicalism has become a safe haven for those who are dissatisfied with the fast progress of the current world and those who feel marginalized within harsh global competition. This world is then blamed for its disagreement with old concepts of religious norms. In this regard, radical Muslims always pursue a dream to transform current society to the society in the Medina of the seventh century.

Radicals imagine that society in Medina then was the most ideal society in human history and guided by prophetic revelation. This can be achieved with all necessary cost and means. As in communism with a Machiavellian touch, violence is often used as a means to achieve a goal. Whereas Islam is old, radical Islam is a new school of thought emerging in a modern global context.

Islam came to Indonesia in the 13th century, and has become a political power since the 16th century. Indonesian Muslims have practiced Islam for five centuries.

But, they retained their local identity, tradition and culture. Indonesian Muslim women did not wear veils but traditional clothes that varied from one province to another. Indonesian Muslim men wore songkok (a traditional hat) and sarong, not the long gamis and turbans worn by their Middle Eastern counterparts.

Indonesians rarely grew beards, which have now become a sign of piety in certain Islamic circles. Unlike the pants worn by members of the Taliban, their pants are long, reaching their ankles. They eat rice, not khubz (Arab bread). They like sambal, not hummus.

In the current development, Islam in Indonesia has been used to assault people of other faiths, or other Muslims from different schools of thought. The peaceful Islam in Indonesia seems like an old story. This and the next generation will only listen to the story that Muslims used to be neighbors to Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and other people embracing other faiths. Those who still hold the idea of old inter-religious harmony are strangers in their own community.

In the current blatant process of "Talibanization" and "Pakistanization", Indonesian Islam has turned out to be a new radical religion. Religious attributes, clothes, the increase in the number of mosques, religious expressions in the public domain and various attempts to sell religious sentiments in politics are nothing but indications of the resurgence of Islamic radicalism. There is little room, if any, left for moderation in practicing Islam in this country.

The radical voice has dominated the public, whereas moderate Muslims remain silent, failing to speak out and unwilling to preach their moderate faith and practices. They somehow let the radicals speak on behalf of their religion and watch their actions on TV. They seem to condemn extremism but not harshly enough.

Since I returned to Indonesia from Germany last year, I attended various conferences on Islam and Indonesia, among them were the "Annual Conference on Islamic Studies" held by the Religious Affairs Ministry in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, in November 2010; the "International Yale Indonesia Forum" held by the University of Diponegoro in Semarang in July 2010; the "Resurgence of Religions in Southeast Asia" held by Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta in January 2011. Some notable Indonesianists and Islamicists in these conferences came to the conclusion that Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism was on the rise in the archipelago. Indonesian Islam is therefore jeopardized.

Our ears have gotten used to hearing bombs, which have indeed already penetrated Indonesian Islam's dictionary – three bombs disguised in books, a suicide bomb in Cirebon, a bomb attempt found near a gas pipeline close to a Catholic church in Tangerang and perhaps many more to come.

If these bomb threats on behalf of Islam continue uninterrupted, "Islam" and "bomb" will be tied together more tightly. As soon as the word Islam is pronounced, our imagination will be drawn to the idea of a "dangerous explosion".

What is so shocking is that few students from the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah in Jakarta – where the ideas of notable liberal Muslim scholars such as Nurcholish Madjid, Harun Nasution, Azyumardi Azra and many others have incubated – were involved in the recent wave of radicalism.

On the other hand, NU (Nahdlatul Ulama) and Muhammadiyah, two major Islamic organizations that should serve as pillars for moderate Islam in Indonesia, have failed to "delegitimize" Islamic radicalism. Worse still, radical ideas have penetrated the two organizations.

Some leaders and young members of the two organizations demonstrate their radical views publicly. They support the FPI's (Islam Defenders Front) threatening actions and denounce their own fellows accused of embracing liberal stances.

It is uncertain whether the leaders of the two organizations just enjoy the support of radical members for political benefit or if they do not care about the latest developments within their organizations. It is indeed dangerous if these religious leaders prioritize their personal agendas of political pragmatism while neglecting the broader nation's interest.

Bear in mind that there is no remedy for Islamic radicalism coming from outside the Muslim community, particularly one's with alien power, using unfamiliar languages. Any attempt to cure the radical virus from outside Islam will likely be doomed to failure. Power outside Islam is regarded as alien, the enemy of Islam. Bans on the total veil (burqa) in France, for instance, will become a legitimate reason for radical Muslims to denounce the hegemony of the West with which Muslim progressive intellectuals are often associated.

Indeed, NU, Muhammadiyah, madrasah (Islamic schools), pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding schools) and Islamic institutes and universities spread across Indonesia should play a greater role in curbing the quick expansion of radicalism. Particularly the hearts and minds of the young generation should be shielded from any dangerous radical seduction.

These Islamic institutions, supported by the government, should shoulder the task. It is better now than too late, before a religious edict of prohibition of becoming a moderate Muslim is issued by the MUI (Indonesian Ulema Council), and another bomb is placed in front of your office's door.

Islamic radicalism has become a safe haven for those who are dissatisfied with the fast progress of the current world and those who feel marginalized within harsh global competition

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University
in Yogyakarta.






The 18th ASEAN Summit has ended and doubts on the realization of ASEAN communities 2015 are still there.

Only in the economic pillar is ASEAN integration likely to happen. At the summit, the discussion to accelerate economic integration resulted in the commitment to implement the ASEAN Open Sky policy in 2015 and to revise the scorecard system in achieving the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

In terms of the political pillar, the results of the summit did not produce any significant development, as evidenced in the failure of ASEAN leaders to take serious efforts to end the ongoing border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

Many have argued that a more interventionist ASEAN is needed, as mentioned by Awidya Santikajaya (The Jakarta Post, April 29). However, it seems the ASEAN way of non-intervention was embedded in the nations.

The dream of the ASEAN Community will remain out of reach if current approaches, which focus on state and business actors, top the list of priorities.

The third pillar of the ASEAN Community, its socio-cultural pillar, is no less important than the previous two. The pillar of the socio-cultural sector is the most important factor in terms of achieving grass-root ASEAN integration.

The pillar, which focuses in part on youth participation, will be the foundation of the other two pillars and will ensure that the vision of a people-centered and people-oriented ASEAN is possible.

Why should ASEAN shift its approach?

In a flat world, as Thomas L. Friedman put it, the most important forces in the world are now shifting from state actors to people actors. Therefore, the needs of ASEAN to shift its perspective from a state-centered focus to a more people-centered focus is inevitable.

The long lasting border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, the cultural claims and border issues between Malaysia and Indonesia and the issue of Rohingya refuges who are repressed in Myanmar and neglected in Thailand prove that conflicts among ASEAN nations exist at the governmental level.

Therefore, it is indeed essential to consider a people-people approach to end the conflicts ahead of ASEAN integration in 2015.

In the dialogue between the leaders and ASEAN youth representatives from 10 member countries during the summit on May 7, Philippine President Benigno Aquino stated that young people were the solution of the problems raised by ASEAN.

Why youth?

Young people are well known as an engine of change. Their thoughts are not linear and very broad. It is no secret that the "Facebook generation", a generation of young people empowered by technological advances, has already successfully overthrown Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and leads the insurgence against Libyan leader Qaddafi. Time's Person of the Year in 2010 was a 26 year-old man, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook owner.

With Twitter, Facebook and other internet-based social media, democracy and world civilization are proven to be highly dependent on to those tools. Youth is the forefront of these tools.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stated at the interface meeting that "youth is not bonded to bureaucratic compilation". They are free and have the most idealistic perspective one can have. Hence, it will be easier for them if they want to do something and indeed they can make a change.

How to make the pillar of socio-cultural community effectively work?

The empowerment of youth is vital for ASEAN integration. It should be supported by both the government and young people themselves.

From the perspective of the government, other ASEAN member states should take into account the statement of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Raza, who said that more active young people in the right manner and sense of identity were needed to foster ASEAN integration.

Hence governments need to consider young people as an investment in ASEAN. It is the job of the governments to engage young people on an equal basis, rather than treating them as objects. Moreover, the governments should provide a good environment to young people to express themselves.

From the perspective of youth, young people should believe that they have the capabilities to bring in changes. The capabilities should then be transformed into action by giving advice, insights, recommendations and inventions to ASEAN member states. Contributions are what the governments need.

Between youth themselves they should realize that ASEAN integration in the future is for the sake of their generation. We need to appreciate the youth forums such as ASEAN Youth Forum on May 3-7, 2011 in Jakarta.

This forum, initiated by the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and Youth and Sports Ministry and the ASEAN Secretariat, is important to build a strong architecture for ASEAN community 2015.

One important point of the forum's joint statement presented to the ASEAN heads of government called for support from the governments to establish more exchanges of scholars and programs to create mutual understanding between young generations through communication.

One or two young people may not be necessarily influential to change individual ASEAN countries. But if they speak with one voice and talk to their respective government on certain issues, they can be an influential element as they were during the summit.

The problem is how to make them speak in unity and cross the "boundaries of mind" to realize a youth-centered ASEAN.

The writer is an ASEAN-Indonesia youth ambassador and participated in the recent ASEAN Youth Forum.






For more than 65 years after independence, Indonesia's food problems remain unsolved. The country is still trapped in the same situation as other underdeveloped nations, where hunger, poverty and malnutrition make headlines almost every day.

Six decades of the fight against food problems has not caused Indonesia to learn from history. The life of farmers is worsening day by day, as indicated by the farmers' exchange value (NTP), which in January 2011 stood at only 97.99 per month. This figure shows that high staple food prices are not accompanied by improvements in the welfare of farmers and fishermen.

Amid the threat of a world food crisis and food insecurity, the government is opening its arms to Genetically Modified (GM) foods. The deputy agriculture minister has said clearly that Indonesia needs GM foods to eradicate undernourishment and hunger. Types of food that will come to Indonesia in 2013 include golden rice, which it is claimed contains high levels of beta-carotene and is suitable for developing countries like Indonesia.

The deputy minister deemed GM food "help from God" for Indonesia. GM food products are promoted by supporters as the answer to two basic problems plaguing Indonesia: high productivity and complex nutrient levels. While the debate over GM food continues, the government instead adopted a policy that ignores the public's worries that almost all GM food products have no safety standards for humans.

A report from the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) in 2009 revealed that more than 30 senior scientists condemned the clinical trials conducted by golden rice producers because they violated the Nuremberg Code of Ethics. Golden rice trials were conducted on adults and children (6-9 years) without going through prior animal tests or other security tests.

In addition to health, the socioeconomic aspects of GM food must be taken seriously, especially concerning seed trap patents. Currently, patents of GM seeds are held by giant companies like Sygenta and Monsanto Corp. People worry that it will lead to farmers' dependence on the supply of seeds from those companies. It means that GM seeds will put off the creativity of farmers in developing local seeds.

Bulukumba cotton farmers should serve as a lesson. Cotton farmers in the South Sulawesi regency were forced to plant transgenic cotton seeds from Monsanto when the local government promised 40 percent greater yields. But, that promise went awry. Conflicts erupted as the farmers suffered losses due to low yields coupled by monopolistic practices under Monsanto's contract, which required farmers to buy seeds from the company.

The government seems to simplify the solution to the national food problem through the production approach. In other words, the production of abundant food will be able to address lingering food problems. Because of this paradigm, the government wants GM food to be an instant solution and is turning a blind eye to the fundamental development of food itself.

The government is ignoring that the chain of food production and distribution is very detrimental to farmers. Nowadays, almost all farmers hardly have a say in determining the selling price of their products, which is controlled by middlemen or tengkulak. Brokers take full control of the market because they provide easy loans to farmers. In contrast, farmers are having difficulties accessing bank loans.

The government also forgets about the unfair distribution of subsidized fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers near urban areas have greater access to fertilizers and pesticides than those in remote areas. The price of fish feed is very expensive and causes local fishery products to be unable to compete with imported ones.

The government's ignorance is exacerbated by extreme climatic conditions. Global climate change makes the planting and harvest seasons increasingly uncertain. The impact was seen in millions of hectares of crop failure in 2010 across Indonesia.

The implication of those problems is the changing of national agricultural land use. In 2008, food production areas reached 30,670,286 hectare, with nearly 8,217 million hectares for paddy fields (Agriculture Ministry, research and development). Every year, according to the statistics bureau, 27,000 hectares of agricultural land is reduced and converted for other purposes.

In some areas, farmers consider farming no longer profitable and have shifted agricultural land to rented houses. Other farmers even sold their land to entrepreneurs to buy a motorcycle to start a motorbike taxi (ojek) business.

If such a condition persists, food security will continuously come under threat. Instead of a comprehensive solution, a shortcut with GM food will only bring people to food dependency and eliminate food self-sufficiency. To overcome this problem is a matter of partisanship and a vision for independence. Start food self-sufficiency now!

The writer is a researcher at the Alliances of Prosperous Villages and a member of the Indonesian Political Economy Association.






A number of districts in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province suffer from serious deficits. Almost all of 18 districts and 5 cities in the province find themselves in a situation where none have enough budget to pay the salary of their civil servants.

Pidie District, for example, suffers a deficit of Rp 34 billion (US$3,980,099.5). One of the reasons for this deficit is due to its number of civil servants. Pidie district has 10,000 civil servants working there. It spends 83 percent of its total budget for the salary of its civil servants.

The total number of civil servants at the district/municipality has a close connection to the regional head direct local election. The local direct election has forced both contender and incumbent to look for support to win the election. Civil servants are regarded as strategic and effective instruments in ensuring a large number of votes. Therefore, civil servants are seriously persuaded by both contender and incumbent to choose sides in the
direct local election.

The local direct election also provides opportunity for ambitious civil servants to get access to the source of power that will help them be promoted once their candidate wins the election.

As a result, local civil servants find themselves in a situation that the result of local election will determine whether they will stay in their positions or promoted to a higher position or in the worst scenario they will be demoted to less strategic positions or even grounded without having any position.

It has become routine practice now that once the newly elected head of the region (district head/city mayor or even governor) was officially sworn into their new position, they will first of all introduce a new directive which will eventually lead to the replacement of a senior local government bureaucrat with a new one.

Newly appointed head of the regional government justifies his directive by saying that those who are replaced are loyalists of the previous incumbent.

Head of the region of course will not publicly admit that the replacement will give them the opportunity to extract money from those bureaucrats who want to occupy a certain senior position in the local bureaucracy. The money is needed probably to repay the money they borrowed during the election.

The engagement of local civil servants in the political process is against the very purpose of building a professional and service oriented bureaucrat. For the civil servant at the local level, the choice is very limited. Lack of vertical and horizontal mobility places them in a very difficult situation.

Vertical promotion is almost impossible after the implementation of regional autonomy. While horizontal promotion between regions is complicated due to the tendency in the regions to prioritize their
local residents.

The government understands the importance of reforming Indonesia's civil servants. The government cannot forget the World Economic Forum's annual report, The Global Competitiveness 2009-2010, which places Indonesia 53rd of 133 in global competition far below its neighboring countries such as Malaysia (24), Singapore (3) and Thailand (36). The largest contributing factor responsible for this ranking is inefficient bureaucracy (20.2), followed by inadequate infrastructure (14.8), political instability (9.0) and corruption (8.7).

Realizing the urgency of reforming Indonesia's civil servants, the government set up a national team under the leadership of Vice President Boediono. Leadership of the team represents important stake holders in the management of civil servants, namely the Administrative Reforms and Home ministries. The target is that all the ministries will conduct their own bureaucratic reform and set the example for provinces and districts/cities to follow them up.

One important aspect needing urgent attention is the revision of the 1999 Civil Servants Law. For the last 10 years since the implementation of regional autonomy,

it is carried out without civil service reform. While the management of local governments and relations between central and local governments have dramatically changed since 1999, the fundamental management of civil servants remains unchanged.

Every attempt at reforming civil servants in general and breaking the link between politics and bureaucracy in particular has to start from a solid legal foundation. The revision of the 1999 Civil Servants Law is a solid foundation to ensure that developing a professional bureaucracy can be achieved with a clear purpose and regulation.

The fact that the initiative to revise the 1999 Civil Servants Law comes from the legislative body should not make the government complacent. It has to take its own initiative in offering an alternative draft with a reformist agenda and confirming its conviction that Indonesia's global competitiveness can only be achieved through a civil service reform.

The writer is senior national advisor at the Decentralization As Contribution to Good Governance German Development Cooperation (DeCGG-GIZ) at the Home Ministry. This opinions expressed are his own.










Ayubowan, Vannakam Assalmu Alaikum and wishes for all the blessings from the thrice blessed day of Vesak with additional blessings and significance this year because it is the 2600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment.

Indeed the country needs showers of blessings because the UPFA government is facing its worst ever international crisis over the United Nations panel report regarding alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final months of the war against the LTTE in 2009.

The United States and the European Union appear to be taking a strong stand on this issue insisting that an independent international court must probe the allegations of war crimes. The European Parliament at a meeting last Thursday adopted a resolution to this effect, though the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Brussels tried to play down the effect of this move. Most independent analysts believe the UN panel report is likely to be taken up by the UN Human Rights Council later this month. With the UN Human Rights Commissioner. Navi Pillay also taking a strong stand on this issue it is possible that a resolution to appoint an international court may be approved by the HRC by a majority vote. The analysts say India last year led a group of Non Aligned Movement countries in defeating a resolution against Sri Lanka, but New Delhi now appears to have changed its stand due to various reasons.

Last Friday Tamil Nadu's opposition AIADMK leader Jayalalitha Jayaram won a landslide victory in the state elections. Ms. Jayaram recently called on the Indian government to push for an international court to probe alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan and LTTE leader.

Though the situation is serious, you made somewhat of a joke about it when you addressed an international road safety conference in Colombo on Thursday. You pledged that top measures would be taken against those involved in what you described as "highway terrorism" or dangerous driving. You ended your speech with a quip that war crimes charges might be made against you for eliminating highway terrorism just as you eliminated the most ruthless terrorist movement in the world.

Terrific jokes apart, Sri Lanka needs to take urgent and prudent diplomatic measures to have a constructive dialogue with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon instead of ridiculing him."

This time of Vesak and the anniversary of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment provide a good opportunity for rethinking and reflection.

 Our leaders especially need to recommit themselves to the Lord Buddha's enlightened principles of non-violence and accept the fact  that violence and hatred could be ended not by violence and hatred but by forgiving, love, compassion,  accommodation and dialogue. Our leaders especially need to come to the enlightenment that Crises are resolved not through schools of war but through schools of conflict resolution, where swords are turned into ploughshares. The Lord Buddha, the Lord Jesus Christ and other religious leaders have told us that lasting peace and justice will be achieved only when we love our enemies, bless those who curse us. Help those who hurt us and pray for those who persecute us.

They have also warned us that those who take up the sword or the gun will die by the sword or the gun as we saw recently in the dramatic case of the …elusive Al Queda … Leader Osama Bin Laden. We hope that Vesak reflections and meditation will liberate our leaders from the self destructive course of self centredness, selfishness, the desire for self interest, personal gain or glory. We hope that Vesak will be a turning point for our leaders to come to the awareness and enlightenment that is only the middle path of dialogue and accommodation that will bring lasting peace and justice.





Military leadership training is such a vague description for the newest addition to the university curricula, which will commence on May 23, in numerous army camps islandwide. The proposed training programme is supposed to discipline the first-year undergraduates while boosting their confidence.

According to the authorities, the training has no strings attached to the military whatsoever, other than the venue and the routine that would be enforced on the trainees during the course.

Neither the Minister nor his Ministry had a clear plan of what it would turn out to be, when he let the cat out of the bag in January this year, by saying that three-week military training would be made mandatory for the students who would enroll into universities. The beginning being thus, the quality of the programme is already questioned as the training for the instructors of the the so-called training programme only started last Friday, not even two weeks before the big day.

If the said course emerged as a result of lack of discipline among the university students, the question as to why did the authorities wait till the students reach the university level to re-process their discipline, is very much worth pursuing. Shouldn't disciplining be included in the objectives of grade 1-5 curricula when it is psychologically effortless to change the mind of a six-year-old and feed morality into his brain. This would have been the very thing, if taught and learnt properly, the religion could do to enhance discipline. By the time the students reach the university level, they have long ceased to be children and it is impossible to uproot the attitudes they have been nurturing for so long.

The general outcry has been that English and IT are more essential components that have to come up in the priority lists. The eyes of the public are blindfolded so as to avoid the questions regarding course content and type of training, which the authorities are indistinct about.

 The talk of giving each of the trainees a laptop and an internet connection at the end of the training, seems to be the catch. It seems like a lame attempt to plaster the opposing mouths and  lure the students from rural areas.

It is unbelievable that the authorities are monetary stable to spend so much on technology while continuing to sell spine-friendly schoolbags at exorbitant prices. It would have been a more sustainable investment to empower the language and IT labs in the universities, which clearly look less resourceful in the eyes of the authorities who have chosen military establishments and public institutions instead.

If the so-called training is a step towards boasting their self-confidence, the ideal thing would be to give them training in entrepreneurship and management. Not only do they lack the confidence to reach out and find their own way as graduates but also they do tend to depend on the government in finding employment. After all, the one-month training does not secure their places in the military forces!

In case, the leadership component of the training recommends training on arms what guarantee does it give that the students will not make use of their newly gained knowledge when their peaceful demonstrations border on violence. After all, politicization of student activities is a more acute issue that needs a solution beyond the band-aid remedies.

The issue, as to how ethical it is to make a residential training in a military establishment compulsory, needs to be addressed immediately. After all, free education should be free enough to leave the ultimate choice in the hands of the parents and students.

A field such as education that talks directly to the psychology of the next generation should not take the form of levying taxes or issuing arrest warrants. After all, enforcement is a clear sign of suppression.

If they are not mere words of wooing, laptop with internet is clearly something to go for, if only the venue was other than a military establishment.





In scenes rivalling the 1981 Jamie Uys movie, The Gods Must be Crazy, when helicopters came circling over their hamlets, the flying machines kicked up more frenzied excitement than dust.

But little did the villagers know that the "manna" the choppers showered from the skies was to devastate generations of human beings and different species of flora and fauna that would sustain their lives.

Welcome to the "Killing Fields" of Kerala, one of India's most progressive states. This is probably the only place in the world where women refuse to give birth. They have been aborting their babies due to abnormal pregnancies. Women here don't want to deliver deformed children anymore, according to environmental activists. "Most of them have babies with congenital defects — bedridden since birth. They spend their life nursing their babies till their death. They know that their babies will not grow up or go to school like normal children," said a recent report, corroborated to Khaleej Times by environmental activists, calling it the Hiroshima syndrome.

In the hamlet of Swarga, which literally means paradise, and the 10 adjoining villages in the northern Kasargod district of Kerala, poison rained from helicopters for 25 years. The hazardous endosulfan insecticide was sprayed over cashew plantations in Enmakaje Panchayat to eradicate tea mosquitoes, killing hundreds and creating a generation of people who could only be described as the living dead.

The catastrophe is so enormous and gripping, as evidenced in a sample survey that found 49 cancer cases, 43 psychiatric cases, 23 epileptics, nine with congenital abnormalities and 23 with mental retardation in 123 houses alone. At the time of writing this report, Kasargod lost two more lives, as a two-and-a half-year-old girl succumbed to the endosulfan ill-effects — deprived of medication by a designated government hospital —  and another cancer victim died just the previous day.

The Plantation Corporation of Kerala started using pesticides in 1976, throwing to the winds all precautionary measures laid out for the aerial spraying of chemicals. At a time when industrialisation had hardly knocked on the doors of the southern state, let alone the villages, the aerial spraying of endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, did not initially raise any eyebrows, except for the curiosity among the middle-class land owners and poor farm hands who came out in the open to watch and got drenched in the poison rains.

"Deformed calves, disappearing honeybees, dying fowls and jackals were the first warnings. Not long after, strange illness in men, women and children started happening. Many believed that the deities were angry and many had to pay the price of pesticide use with their own suffering and death," says a report from a fact-finding mission, led by Dr Romeo F. Quijano of the University of the Philippines, for the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific.

By the time people noticed this environmental abuse and started to raise a banner of protest, the aerial spraying of the persistent pesticide for almost two-and-a-half decades had done athe maximum damage it could have.

While the Kerala government has confirmed 450 deaths and identified around 5,000 victims (including 525 bed-ridden), environmental activists put the toll at nearly 1,000 dead with another 8,000 down with critical illnesses. The people finally woke up. And, thanks to the perseverance of a handful of activists and a relentless campaign by local print and television media, the cries of Kasargod not only reverberated in the corridors of power across the world but also helped open the eyes of farmers from Asia to Africa to the hazards of endosulfan and other pesticides.

Moved by the pictures and poignant stories of India's victims, the Geneva summit of Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants decided last month to phase out the chemical despite initial opposition from the government of India, which meets nearly 70 per cent of global endosulfan requirements. The decision will not be binding on India unless specifically ratified by the country.

The industry statistics are so alluring and mind-blowing that during the talks in Geneva, Indian officials fought tooth and nail against the phase-out. India produces over 10,000 tonnes of endosulfan worth Rs3 billion a year, nearly half of which is exported. Analysts say India might have feared that any admission of endosulfan deaths would have opened up a Pandora's Box of legal claims for damages.

The journey from Kasargod to Geneva spanning over 30 years was a lifetime work for some of the villagers. While Kasargod thanks mainstream newspapers, magazines and television for their significant contribution to the campaign, there are three people who would always remain in the hearts of the victims for exposing the "killing fields" back in the seventies. This story is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the endosulfan war who have made it a mission in their life.

Talking to Khaleej Times, the trio — farmer-journalist Shree Padre, medical practitioner Mohan Kumar and agriculture assistant Leela Kumari Amma, all of who had been extensively quoted in Dr Quijano's report — were philosophical about their achievement.

It was Padre's article about deformities and stunted growth in calves that sowed the first seeds for a public outcry. "It's true that it was my article that first broke the story in 1979. But it was only about calves and at that moment I really didn't know about the chemical's effects on human beings," admits Padre, 55. The story raised awareness among the people who started to complain about new health problems. "It was at one of those protests I first met Dr Mohan, who told me about endosulfan's possible dangers to human beings," says Padre.

"To be frank, I was the first person not to disbelieve Dr Mohan and was more than convinced when the owner of the calves I wrote about also died of cancer. By that time Dr Mohan had already written to the authorities about the phenomenal rise in diseases in our area. But the credit goes to Leela Amma who showed the guts to take on the Plantation Corporation by launching a legal war," says Padre. "It was a one-person battle in the beginning."

Leela Amma has seen it all, experienced it all. She felt something amiss when her brother, who was looking after the construction of her house on the outskirts of the cashew plantation in Periye village in 1992, started to fall sick with stomach ache, severe eye pain and falling appetite.

Aerial spraying was in full swing when Leela Amma shifted to her new house on April 25, 1993. She was horrified to see that the helicopters circling over her home and other colonies in the area were showering poison on all drinking water sources, cattle and even school-going children.

"Being an agriculture assistant, I was aware of the dangers of endosulfan, but was shocked to see the devastation in my own backyard. After my brother died in 1993, I was determined that my pregnant daughter must not give birth to a baby afflicted with deformities resulting from chemical poisoning," says Leela Amma, 63. "When my repeated petitions from 1994 to 1997 to the chief minister, agriculture minister, the Plantation Corporation in Kottayam and the district collector, seeking suspension of the aerial spraying, were not considered, I moved the court in October 1998 and obtained a stay next month."

The Plantation Corporation, with the backing of the powerful pesticides lobby, filed an appeal which they again lost. With the legal war already telling on her financially and morally, Leela Amma was shattered when the corporation moved the higher court to get the stay vacated.

But she wouldn't give up easily. Despite failing health and threats from various quarters asking her to give up the campaign, she battled on. "After a long-drawn court battle, supported by THANAL, one of the most active environmental organisations, and the SEEK organisation in Payyannur, I finally won a permanent court ban on endosulfan spraying on October 18, 2001."

But tragedy struck her on the victory day when an unidentified speeding truck ploughed into an autorickshaw she was boarding.







Chennai, 13 May 2011

It takes a lot of courage, and both the Government and more particularly the TNA have displayed it in an abundant measure. In the midst of the controversy kicked off by the report of the panel set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the two sides met twice and continued with their talks – one over rehabilitation issues and the other on reconciliation. Now even as the dust is settling down over the political controversies, they have met again this week.

Yet, the willingness to meet should not be confused with willingness to talk. Neither should be confused with a willingness to acknowledge each other's positions and for finding a middle-path, in the interim. There are issues from the past, whose real nature and relevance in the changed circumstances after three decades of war and violence, cannot be – and should not be – addressed, overnight. The solution could at times be worse than the problem, as perceived in a different era. The world has come a long way, since.

There is merit in the Government position that the TNA is not the 'sole representative'. The phraseology has an unpalatable connotation, too, and the Government should stop making 'unintended' (?) comparisons with the LTTE. The Government should not shy away from the TNA talking to Diaspora groups, which the latter has taken pains to deny. If the TNA is able to mainstream sections of the Diaspora, which the Government cannot hope to do any time now, it should be welcome. At the end of the day, the Sri Lankan State should act with confidence that it won back in the war.

The TNA, in turn, should acknowledge that there is a Tamil polity beyond themselves and the Diaspora sections that they represent. Post-war polls have proved as much, so will the revived round of Local Government polls stalled by the Election Commission but cleared since, what with the courts clearing the ruling UPFA 19 nominations in the Tamil areas. It is not only about seats but about votes, too. By extension, there is a substantial Tamil constituency for whom there are issues beyond politics and even political reconciliation. The TNA should acknowledge it.

The question of re-merger of the North and the East is only one of them. But it could be an important component to a political solution, as perceived by the Tamil-speaking people or a section thereof. The Eastern Tamil polity was a creation of the late S J V Chelvanayagam. Prabhakaran consolidated it under the LTTE's flag through imaginative politics and ruthless methodology. Or, so was it believed, until 'Col' Karuna and Pillaiyan changed the perception.

Today, apologists for the LTTE concede that the exit of the 'eastern wing' – and conversely their willing support for the armed forces of the Sri Lankan State (?) – was a contributing factor to the annihilation of the former. Yet, barring the victory in the post-war polls to the Eastern Provincial Council after it was de-merged from the North, citing a Supreme Court ruling, neither Karuna, nor Pillaiyan has been able to win over the Eastern Tamils from their pro-TNA mind-set. Numbers didn't add up -- but only in terms of seats and not seats -- even when they contested together under the ruling UPFA banner.

This does not mean the TNA majority should be confused with a majority in the Eastern Province. The tri-lingual Province is a microcosm of Sri Lanka as far as the presence of all three ethnicities go. But numbers vary. Census-2011, it is believed, is expected to throw up the Muslim community as the single largest demographic group in the East. It could well show them as the second largest in the country, after the Sinhalas – yet, way behind. Or, so go perceptions.

The recent Election Commission figures, for one, have shown that the Tamil voters in northern Jaffna, for instance, has halved over the decades. This goes against common demographic perceptions under normal conditions. It is easy to argue that most of them are settled elsewhere in the country, or have migrated overseas. There are also the Upcountry Tamils settled in the North, whose separate identity the northern Tamils had shied away from acknowledging through the decades of war.

These are the forgotten people -- the Upcountry Tamils. Having migrated to the no-man's land in the North-East corridor, they were the victims of the war in its concluding phase. Yet, no one is talking about them, starting with their own national leadership(s). Party-wise enrolment is being talked about only now – it is yet to begin, though. In the urban centres elsewhere, there are those from the community and in fairly large numbers, who had subsumed their ethnic identity in the face of disenfranchisement and Statelessness in the years immediately following Independence.

Effective enrolment that was promised years ago, too, is yet to take place. Until that happens, their numbers would remain in the realm of speculation – and could well continue to be added to the head-count of the 'Sri Lankan Tamil' community. The dichotomy could only add to the problems of the community and country in the coming years, and needs to be effectively addressed – and, redressed, too.

Otherwise, too, the truth about SLT migration lies in-between – and can provide a self-defeating counter to the TNA's argument. It strengthens the Government's position that there are more Tamils living outside the traditional areas within the country than used to be the case.  Either way, it remains to be seen, if any or all of them would want to return to their old homestead – and actually do so, with their next generation(s) following them, more so.

This creates a pattern that could challenge existing norms for de-limitation of electorates, and hence the number of representatives from the Tamil-depleted areas. It need not necessarily add greater Tamil representation elsewhere in the country though they could become the 'deciding factor' in a larger numbers than their numbers allow. This does not include Canada or elsewhere with Tamils being voted in to national Parliament and other elected representative bodies. The on-going negotiations have to address this issue, too.

The 'Northern Muslims' too have not yet returned home fully from their refugee camps in western Puttalam. How well they feel integrated – just as the Tamils want to be integrated with the larger Sri Lankan nation and on their terms – remains to be seen, decades after being forced out of their homes and businesses by the LTTE in 1990, too, remains to be seen. It is another aspect of the post-war ethnic discourse that the TNA might love to overlook. Just because no one is talking for them, or talking about them, it does not mean that they do not exist, or their problems, including that of re-integration, do not exist. In the evolving dynamics nearer home and elsewhere, it cannot be over-looked. The Muslim community in the country cannot be made to feel the same way as the Tamils claim they have been feeling. It's unfair, to say the least.

The Government might not have had altruistic motives when ordering de-merger, citing a Supreme Court verdict. The latter did not question the merger decision, per se, but cited procedural problems, including parliamentary prerogative, in effecting the same. Post-war, it may be safe to approach the court to see if the elimination of the LTTE is as good as its exit from war when active. While ordering de-merger in 200 it was among the pre-conditions that the Apex Court said had not been met, as the spirit of the Provincial Councils Act dictated.

The all-round flux means that any talk of re-merger at this stage could be illusionary, even if achieved. It is not about politics any more, as in the pre-war era. It's about the society and this distinction needs to be made. While not writing off merger at this stage – where the Provincial Council Act provides a verification mechanism, however defective for a starting-point for re-negotiations – effective and long-term solutions have to be found.

Waiting for Census-2021, a decade from now, to take care of those issues, when not only the problems from the past but also other solutions from the present would/could have been tested, is one such. Putting it off for review another day does not tantamount to defeat or closure. Writing it in into the Constitution, as flowing from a negotiated settlement, could and would only be an interim way out, when (alone) pragmatism born out of practice, and not politics from the past, could be expected to guide the processes.

Freezing de-limitation by a decade, as larger Indian democracy did in the immediate neighbourhood for full three decades, and continues with it to a lesser extent, could also be a beginning. It need not and cannot be an end in itself, either way.





Indian political club has already started meddling with the Sri Lankan issues openly, which had been muted since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi that was well over a decade ago.

Now the latest is actress turned Chief Minister elect Jayalalitha Jayaram's statement on Sri Lanka. But per haps she had been a bit circumspect in her statement though, unlike the naiveté of Sonia.

Election times are different. People in these regions well know that these are empty words. But by some strange power they seem to believe.

Funnily enough this time both factions –venerable old Karunanidhi and the mistress Jayalalitha both have kept Sri Lankan issue on their campaign topics. And JJ won.

The Chief Minister designate in Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha Jeyaram has called on the Indian government to take measures against the Sri Lanka President for alleged war crimes and genocide of Tamils, so the news said.

"Speaking in her own channel, Jaya TV after her election victory on Friday, Jayaliatha Jeyaram said that it is India's responsibility to ensure a "dignified and honourable existence" for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

"I will exert pressure on the central government, after I take over as the CM, to take action against the Sri Lankan President before the international court for genocide and war crimes. India should take the initiative for this," she said.

"If the Sri Lanka government did not oblige to these requests, Indian government has to impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka together with other countries," Ms Jayalalitha added."

But this time she also said craftily that "as a State government she can't do much and that maximum she could do was to push the central govt. to so something." Shrewd enough!

That was across the straits, for them they have enough of their problems and the concern for a Lankan war destitute probably ends there. Neither would they care that their words and deeds would affect the lives of the normal civilians and particularly the minority Tamils. They had enough of suffering due to Indira Gandhi's and JRJ's political experiments.

Sonia Gandhi too didn't want to miss the opportunity and jumped the band wagon, blabbered a few things about being concerned about the Sri Lankan Tamils. It ended there, fortunately.

But worse is that the local Tamil Political parties booming on the panel report-idiotically. Perhaps with one leg in a Western soil. Most of us don't know about there families. A senile TNA member's descendants are in the West. With one foot in the West and one in the grave this member thrive on the sufferrings of the innocent Tamil civilians. And he likes kindling violence.  And obviously TNA welcomed the findings of the Experts' Panel.

And they said this with much fanfare and much publicity, stupid as they could be. If not stupid -agents of powers that want instability in the region. Their statements were utterly irresponsible and exhibit politically total immaturity. Their stance and utterances could only make the living conditions worse than ever, given the political context. The same would apply to the government too.

The government, on and off resorts to soft reprisals methods against Tamils whenever there is an international pressure. And reacting to local Tamils as an answer to international pressure would only worsen its image. But the sad truth is that so many Tamils in the country are now with the President.

And they hope the President would take them in his fold and continue with his Tamil and reconciliation process regardless of reports.

And a problem in the country will affect all of uss regardless of caste, class creed or religion.









A FEW days back, the New York Times reported that President Obama was planning to deliver a major speech designed to "reset" US relations with the Arab world.

According to the story, "Mr Obama was casting about for ways to tie together events in the Middle East (ie the Arab Spring and Bin Laden's killing) and "the current plan is for the president to keep his focus on the broader changes in the Arab world, rather than to present a specific new plan for reviving the (Israeli-Palestinian) peace talks".

I hope the Times got the story wrong. Arabs are not looking to Obama for an analysis of their circumstances. What they want may differ from country to country, but a core concern shared by most is that the US demonstrates leadership in resolving the Palestinian issue.

They make clear that the US is still paying a price for Bush era policies, and that Obama is still suffering from a "post-Cairo speech" let-down. That speech raised expectations not fulfilled. They caution against another "big speech" that promises a lot and delivers too little. Because the headline leading up to the 2009 Cairo University speech and then coming out of it was Obama's commitment to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, failure to address it now, or address it in generalities, or with more vague promises will deepen mistrust or provoke scorn or rage.

While George Mitchell's appointment as special envoy raised hopes in the Middle East, his tenure has been disappointing. His departure is being viewed as an admission of a collapse of the process. And with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Congress in agreement on blocking the Palestinian reconciliation pact and the Palestinian leadership's efforts to seek the UN's recognition of their state in September, it would be viewed as a glaring omission and lack of serious intent should Obama fail to address the issue in whatever speech he is to give.

There are voices in the US, maintaining that the Arab Spring has eclipsed Palestine. With revolutions underway in parts of the Middle East, the removal of Bin Laden from the scene, and Arabs concerned with Iran's push for regional hegemony, they say it is these issues that should be the topics dominating Obama's message.

Any presidential address on the Arab world will have to comment on the changes underway. But none of this can justify ignoring Palestine.

Obama knows that efforts to diminish the centrality of Palestine are wrong. He understands the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in creating a more stable and secure Middle East and improving US standing in the Arab world.

That his peace-making efforts have been stymied by circumstances beyond his control is unfortunate, but to advise him to surrender to these circumstances would be a tragic mistake. He cannot make peace by himself. And he must always be attentive to the domestic political consequences of any actions he may attempt. But he can make clear the parameters of what would constitute a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Building on the Taba framework, nearly completed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2000, and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, he can put forward an Obama Plan, with markers for behaviour and timetables for implementation, backed up by commitments as incentives and the threat to withhold political support as a sanction.

He then must sell it to the American public, the world community and Arabs and Israelis.

If the Times story is right and ignoring Palestine or downplaying it is what is being contemplated, then I would suggest skipping the speech. Rather than appearing insensitive and out of touch, earning scorn or worse, it would be better to do nothing at all.





I am not one of those people into conspiracy theories. But I am completely convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald did not shoot John F Kennedy.

Almost 30 years ago I turned up at the sixth floor museum at the Texas Book Depository in Dealey Plaza when it first opened.

At that time you were allowed to lean out of the window where young Mr Oswald allegedly shot the president.

Now the chap in question was well known as not being a particularly good shot in the first place from his military days.

But instead of shooting the president as he approached the plaza - a straight shot - he chose to wait until the presidential cavalcade was half way down Elm Street.

The angle is ridiculous and he would certainly have seriously damaged his shoulder from shooting at such an angle.

I know. I have hung out of the window.

People love conspiracy theories so no sooner had the US taken out Osama bin Laden the other week than there were all sorts of claims that it was not true and that Bin Laden had either been dead for years or was still alive.

The main reason that I do not subscribe to these conspiracy theories is that they mostly emanate from Iran's Press TV. The one thing you can be pretty sure about any news report from Press TV is that it is Iranian propaganda and a lie.

I check my watch when they tell you the time.

For most of my life I have been extremely proud to come from the country that produced the British Broadcasting Corporation. I have held it in much the same high esteem that I hold our National Health Service.

Equally, with the exception of the silly end of the market, I have had the greatest respect for the UK newspaper industry.

In recent months that respect has been diminishing as the UK coverage of events in Bahrain has proved to be miles away from the truth.

I got a phone call the other day from my old mate Ian Renwick whom I had not heard from for years.

He was concerned about my state of health and safety because of what the British media were telling him about our "State of Emergency".

Ian and I go way back.

We shared a flat as students and marched on more demonstrations and took part in more sit-ins than you could shake a stick at in our days at Dundee University.

I explained to him that I was sitting in a hostelry, enjoying a glass of grape juice and a cheese toastie and that everything here was fine.

I then pointed out that as our weekend was approaching I was planning an evening downtown with a couple of mates and that venturing into the centre of Manama was a lot safer than into the centre of Dundee in our student days.

I also went to some lengths to explain that the government here, far from having a state of emergency, had created a state of peace and quiet after others had endeavoured to put this small island nation into a state of emergency.

He was rather surprised because like me, in spite of our youthful political cynicism, he tends to believe what he hears on the BBC and reads in the newspapers.

This worries me because there are far too many people in the UK and elsewhere in the world who are getting the wrong idea of what is going on in Bahrain because of poor, unprofessional journalism and, in the case of broadcasters like Press TV, outright negative propaganda.

It strikes me that Bahrain is bouncing back quite strongly from the recent unrest but that in order to get us back to the Business Friendly Bahrain we were before the troubles we need to do a bit more public relations internationally to get back on track. That is not easy because, as anyone who works in the media will tell you good news is no news.

I thought, at one point, of suggesting that the government here should hire Alastair Campbell to do a PR job for them, but he is perhaps past his sell by date by now.

But now that the reporters who thrive on bad news have left our shores because there is no bad news to report, why not invite some UK journalists from respectable newspapers to come and get a flavour of what is really happening in Bahrain?

Things are picking up, but the hotel industry is still struggling so it would not cost a lot of money to bring some business and travel journalists over here.

Things may not be perfect yet, but they are certainly a lot better than most of my friends back in Britain seem to think.

All Greek to me!

The Greeks have a word 'endaxi' which sort of means everything is OK.

It actually means that there is nothing to worry about and everything will turn out all right so there is no urgent need to do anything today and that tomorrow will be a better day to be concerned about things.

It's more of an attitude than anything else. So their current economic problems rather run against the grain of a national reticence to get excited about things.

Government plans to rescue the economy are unlikely to work because Greek workers are prone to go on strike at the drop of a hat, while the self-employed have for generations had a fondness for not paying taxation. So it strikes me that the likeliest outcome of the country's debt problems will be that it defaults.

So far the European Central Bank (ECB) seems to have been more than happy to lend more and more money to this much indebted nation.

But in spite of that, its total debt levels against gross domestic product seem to continue to rise.

What little success the government has with cutting costs is being offset by the economy's ability to grow and that is a recipe for disaster.

The problem the bank faces is that if there is a Greek default, then what happens with Ireland and Portugal, which is why it appears quite happy to pour money into Greece.

But what is the big deal about letting Greece default? It largely owes money to Belgian, German and French banks. These banks would not collapse if Greece took a haircut and only paid a percentage of what it owes. It would probably be better for the European financial system if that was what happened next.

The problem is that such a move would greatly upset the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

But just at the moment the ECB could probably get away with ignoring the IMF. IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn will probably be keeping his own counsel about fiscal responsibility for some time to come.










Although a number of articles are written every day in the U.S. press on the NATO strikes against Libya and the participation of U.S. forces in this military campaign, the U.S. press has barely addressed the issue of Bahrain.   However, what is occurring in Bahrain is no less grave than the situation in Libya.


Storming mosques and Hosseiniyas (congregation halls for Shia ritual ceremonies), setting houses on fire, arresting and torturing physicians, raping women, as well as the fact that dozens of people have gone missing and a former Bahraini MP died under torture, are issues that cannot be ignored by Western countries, which are the self-proclaimed standard-bearers of human rights.   Although Arab media outlets have also remained silent, Bahraini protesters expect Western human rights organizations to do something for them.     Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of one of the detained protesters, recently went on hunger strike and wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, who claimed that the U.S. entered the war in Libya to protect the lives of the people, but he did not reply to her letter.    Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have paid attention to the issue of Bahrain, but governments that have the power to do something and to exert pressure on the Al Khalifa government have not adequately addressed the Bahrain issue.    Meanwhile, certain research centers and think tanks connected with decision-making circles in the United States are not only ignoring what the military forces, which were dispatched to Bahrain under the aegis of the Peninsula Shield Force created by the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), are doing in the country, but have also highlighted the role of this council.   In a recent report, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is affiliated with the Zionist lobby, advised Obama to make efforts to better understand the concerns of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.   The institute emphasized that the U.S. should maintain its friendly relations with the PGCC member states and should cooperate with these countries, not only to retain its control over the region's extensive oil and gas reserves but also to facilitate its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to contain Iran.

The institute also pointed to the $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.   The Brookings Institution has also turned a blind eye to what is taking place in Bahrain but has hailed the position that the PGCC has adopted toward certain countries outside the Persian Gulf region, namely Libya and Yemen.   On the other hand, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has suggested that the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq and assure the friendly Persian Gulf littoral states that it will not abandon them.

The CSIS also said that instead of maintaining a direct presence in these countries, the U.S. should train the security forces of these countries just as it trained the Saudi Arabian National Guard.   In addition, on April 20, 2011, Foreign Policy magazine indirectly hailed Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Bahrain and wrote that the intervention indicates that Arab states do not just address their own internal affairs but are also concerned about what is happening around them.     However, certain writers and some U.S. newspapers have published articles on the suffering of the Bahraini people.   Karen Leigh, in an article published in Time magazine on April 27, 2011, asked why Bahrain is trying civilians before a military court.   She noted that the military court in Bahrain convicted four Shia protesters and sentenced them to death for the murder of two policemen during anti-government demonstrations in May in the Persian Gulf kingdom, and three other Shia activists were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the policemen's deaths.

Leigh added, "Bahrain's military prosecutor said the seven men are being tried under a 2006 anti-terrorism law which mandates the death penalty. The statute has long been criticized by international rights groups as being vague, providing a too-broad definition of what qualifies as terrorism."     Michael Slackman and Stefan Pauly, in an article published in the New York Times on April 28, 2011, wrote that U.S. officials have closed their eyes to developments in Bahrain and pointed to the U.S. alliance with the Al Khalifa regime.    The Washington Post, in an article published on April 4, 2011, commented on the Bahrain issue and wrote that the Bahraini government is brutally suppressing the Shias.   And the Aljazeera television network presented appalling details about the torture of women in detention facilities in Bahrain.   It seems that the media climate is different than the climate prevailing at institutions affiliated with decision-making circles of power.   As we discussed, the centers affiliated with decision-makers have emphasized that U.S. officials should maintain their relations with Saudi Arabia and the PGCC while the media has addressed what is going on in Bahrain, though briefly.

U.S. newspapers have also reported that two political camps exist in the White House in regard to developments in the Arab world, one that is idealistic and the other pragmatic.    According to these newspapers, the idealistic White House officials maintain that the Obama Administration should focus on U.S. values, such as respect for human rights and freedom, when intervening in the affairs of other countries. On the other hand, the pragmatic White House officials maintain that the U.S. government should only take its own interests into consideration and devise its strategies based solely on those interests.

According to a number of reports, the U.S. Congress hosted the representatives of Bahraini human rights organizations at a meeting held on May 13, 2011, in order to be briefed on what is taking place in Bahrain.   It is said that Maryam al-Khawaja, the sister of Zainab al-Khawaja, attended the meeting and spoke about the atrocities being committed by the Al Khalifa government.

But will U.S. officials sacrifice their strategic relations with Saudi Arabia for humanitarian values, particularly now that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom the U.S. regarded as an element contributing to the balance of power, has been ousted, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been left to their own devices and are in need of U.S. support?    On the other hand, the PGCC recently invited Morocco and Jordan to attend its meetings. This invitation could be indicative of a number of things, including that the U.S. is making attempts to strike a new balance of power or to gather representatives of all kingdoms together in one council.   However, it is still not clear if the PGCC invitation will lead to the accession of these two countries or if powerful countries like Qatar will agree to the new make-up, particularly now that Qatar has withdrawn from the PGCC initiative on Yemen.








For May 15 Nakba commemorations, massive crowds assembled in Cairo's Tahrir Square in solidarity. They displayed banners, proclaiming, "The People want the Rafah Crossing opened," and "Palestine is a Arab state."


They also waved Palestinian flags, chanting "Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada" and "National Unity" ahead of a planned weekend march to Gaza.

Domestic issues were also addressed, including ending recent sectarian violence and concerns about popular unaddressed issues under military junta rule. After Friday prayers, Sheikh Safwat Hegazy addressed the crowd, saying:

"(Appointed prime minister) Essam Sharaf: this is not your government. This is the revolution's government. You should kick out the six former (NDP ruling party) ministers from the cabinet. We won't accept (deputy prime minister) Yehia El-Gamal who's part of the former regime...."

In response, crowds chanted, "Down, down Yehia El-Gamal." One participant, identified only as Mohammad, spoke for others, saying:

"Sharaf's government is taking the same path as the former government. They have the same double standards, secrecy and authoritarian policy-making in internal (and) external affairs."

Though Egypt's spring hasn't bloomed, its spirit pervades Tahrir, suggesting perhaps renewed uprisings ahead. For now, however, Egyptians head for Gaza in solidarity with Palestinian liberation, a goal millions around the world support, as well as a Third Intifada to achieve it.

Surprisingly, however, despite MENA region (Middle East/North Africa) Morocco to Oman to Syria uprisings, Palestinians haven't yet reacted, except for regular small-scale demonstrations far short of large masses throughout Egypt and neighboring countries, posing challenges for ruling authorities.

Yet nowhere is regional abuse more extreme, including occupation, isolation, land theft, mass arrests, torture, targeted assassinations, daily terror, and at times war, causing thousands of casualties and widespread destruction.

Perhaps Egypt's solidarity march will inspire what hasn't yet occurred, under the slogan, "Cairo's liberation will not be complete without the liberation of Al-Quds (Jerusalem)."

According to Justice and Freedom Youth Movement's Ahmed Doma:

"We are organizing this event as part of the Arab Internet call for a third Palestinian Intifada, and as part of what has been termed 'the Arab mass march.' "

Facebook was used, urging that regional Arabs march en masse to Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanian/Israeli borders, demanding what Palestinians have long sought, including liberation, ending occupation, the right of return, and East Jerusalem as its capital.

Participating Egyptians also want:

-- Rafah's border crossing permanently open, permitting free movement of people and goods;

-- halting Egypt's sale of gas to Israel;

-- ending all "humiliating agreements with the Zionist state;" and

-- immediate release of all Palestinians in Egyptian prisons.

On May 14 at noon Cairo time, marchers headed for Gaza, expecting to arrive that evening ahead of planned May 15 Nakba day rallies. At the same time, protesters demonstrated in front of Israel's Giza embassy and its ambassador's Maadi residence.

We are All Resistance member Arwa said "other convoys heading to Palestine are moving from Alexandria, Suez, Damietta and North Sinai. People will also join convoys from Gharbiya, Beni Suef, Assiut, Qena and Sohag" in a mass show of solidarity.

Cairo participating groups include:

-- the National Front for Justice and Democracy;

-- Cairo University's Supporters of the Palestinian Revolution;

-- the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement,

-- Kifaya;

-- We are All the Resistance Movement;

-- Helwan University's Resistance Movement;

-- Ultras Ahlawy Ahly football club supporters;

-- Zamalek club White Knights;

-- Activists for Palestine;

-- the Palestinian Women's Coalition;

-- the April 6 Movement;

-- the Nasserist Party; and

-- various independent activists.

In Tel Aviv, Israel's Zochrot organization also shows support, defying the imposed ban on Nakba commemorations by posting a sign in German saying "we remember." Other Israelis joined them in solidarity.

On its web site (, it:

"seeks to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba, especially among Jews in Israel, who bear a special responsibility to remember and amend the legacy of 1948."

Palestinians were victimized, losing "their entire world. But Jews in Israel also pay a price for their conquest," living with the criminal legacy Palestinians and global supporters won't forget. Zochrot's goal is "recognition for injustice and new paths toward change and repair," including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, saying:

"Return is fundamental to resolving the conflict and implementation of return need not cause injustice to Jewish Israel." It doesn't mean expelling them. In fact, "the very opposite: The mutual existence of Palestinians and Jews in the country," co-existing together peacefully. Return can thus free two societies from the destructive occupier/occupied relationship, ending a longstanding intolerable blight.

As a result, Zochrot will participate in March of Return activities, its site saying its members will visit Miska village, destroyed and ethnically cleaned by Israelis in 1948. They'll then join the March of Return in al-Damun and al-Ruways villages, also demolished in 1948.

Ahead of May 15 demonstrations, Haaretz writers Anshel Pfeffer, Jack Khoury and Nir Hasson headlined, "Israeli --- Palestinian tensions rise in Jerusalem, West Bank as Nabka Day nears," explaining that:

Clashes erupted between IDF soldiers and Palestinians throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem Friday morning, including in Silwan, Isawiya and the Old City. Israeli police arrested 11 protesters. IDF soldiers used rubber bullets, tear gas, and heavy-handed thuggishness, assaulting nonviolent demonstrators.

Several injuries were reported, including an American and 17-year old Milad Said Ayyash, shot in the head Friday at close range with a high-velocity tear gas cannister and killed. At his Saturday funeral, two Palestinians were wounded. Others were arrested.

Further, Haaretz said "tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees will converge in Maroun al-Ras, a village in southern Lebanon that was a major point of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War. A parallel demonstration will also be held on the Israeli side of the Lebanon border in Avivim....where demonstrations will be staged concurrently with" a planned Maroun al-Ras rally.

The International Middle East Media Center also reported on May 13 IDF - Palestinian clashes, including:

-- Israelis blocking roads, impeding weekly Bil'in anti-wall protesters from traveling to established sites;

-- arresting 34 West Bank/East Jerusalem protesters; and

-- wounding 22 Palestinians in Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, including photo-journalist Hilmi Tamimi.

Moreover, Italian and Malaysian activists arrived in Gaza, including friends of slain activist/journalist Vittorio Arrigoni. They'll join growing numbers of others in solidarity for Palestinian liberation and justice.

However, according to Press TV on May 14, Egyptian authorities blocked access to Sinai, preventing activists from reaching Rafah. Also, buses to transport other supporters didn't arrive. Nonetheless, "a convoy left Cairo's Liberation square on Saturday," hoping to show Palestinian solidarity on the Gaza/Rafah border.

A Final Comment

On May 12, a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) report said Israeli soldiers and settlers killed 7,342 Palestinians from September 29, 2000 (start of the second Intifada) through December 31, 2010.

PCBS also said Israeli security forces "kidnapped" nearly 750,000 Palestinians since June 1967, including 12,000 women and many children, targeted for wanting freedom in their own land.

Occupation harshness continues daily throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and besieged Gaza. On May 15, regional solidarity will converge in Gaza, along Egyptian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and Syrian border areas, and perhaps other locations worldwide, commemorating Nakba day for what Palestinians have long sought - liberation on their own land in their own country. Long overdue, it can't come a moment too soon.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at; also visit his blog site at








Bahraini and Saudi security forces continue daily terror in Bahrain, human rights groups condemning the violence, including Amnesty International (AI), providing regular updates.

On May 11, AI reported more than 47 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, have been arrested, charged and may face trial before a military court for doing their job. All are Shias in a Sunni-run state.

Entirely bogus charges against them include:

1 -- refusing to help people in need;

2 -- embezzling public funds;

3 -- assaults causing deaths;

4 -- unauthorized possession of weapons and ammunition;

5 -- refusing to perform duties;

6 -- putting people's lives and health at risk;

7 -- illegal detention;

8 -- abusing authority;

9 -- attempting to forcefully occupy buildings;

10 -- incitement to forcibly overthrow the Khalifa monarchy;

11 -- incitement of regime hatred;

12 -- incitement of the hatred of a segment of society;

13 -- disseminating false news and malicious rumors, harming the public interest; and

14 -- participating in unauthorized rallies and meetings.

Amnesty International calls the accusations "vague" and "trumped up." In fact, those charged are for participating in peaceful protests, treating injured demonstrators, and denouncing state violence -- noble acts, not crimes.

On May 12, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) confirmed over 900 arrested, disappeared, and/or tortured, as well as at least 31 deaths. Most participated in peaceful protests. Others were engaged in routine daily activities, but were arrested anyway in broad sweeps.

Among the dead was a 15-year old boy shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while playing near his home. His father said he was also pistol-whipped on his neck, causing it to snap. "I picked him up, and I could hear him breathing in pain," he said. "He took his last breath and then he did not breathe again. He died in my arms."

A 71-year old, Isa Mohammed, died of asphyxiation in his home from heavy tear gas firing. His family's plea for medical care was denied. Others died in custody from beatings and torture.

BCHR called torture "institutionalized within the Bahraini judicial and penal systems." A 2010 Omar Ahmed Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) report titled, "Broken Promises: Human Rights, Constitutionalism and Socio-economic Exclusion in Bahrain" explained abuses and unfulfilled reforms.

Most Bahrainis are politically and economically deprived. Poverty and unemployment are extreme. High level corruption is extensive. Past confrontations between protesters and security forces resulted in violence, arrests, torture, other abuses and deaths. Oppressive measures are taken to prevent democratic reforms, including restricting free expression, assembly and association.

Moreover, human rights groups accuse authorities of "arbitrarily detaining opposition figures and....activists, subjecting (them) to torture and ill-treatment."

Overall, monarchal rule represents failed constitutionalism and state cronyism, institutionalized by security force harshness, enforced through brutal crackdowns, including widespread use of torture.

Explicitly prohibited under international law, Chapter III, Article 19, Clause (d) of Bahrain's 2002 Constitution also states:

"No person shall be subjected to physical or mental torture, or inducement, or undignified treatment, (and any) statement or confession proved (made) under torture, inducement, or such treatment, or the threat thereof, shall be null and void."

The Arab Charter on Human Rights also bans torture and other abuses and ill-treatment. It's strictly prohibited at all times, under all conditions, with no allowed exceptions.

Nonetheless, well-documented cases show it's extensively used to extract forced confessions for state prosecutions.

Of note was a 2002 King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa royal decree, granting persons accused of torture immunity for prior alleged instances when it was practiced freely to punish and extract confessions for trials. Under Hamad, nothing changed.

Moreover, in 2005, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concerns for lack of a clear Bahrain definition. In 2008, they were again raised regarding the treatment of five Unemployment Committee members, arrested between December 21 and 28, 2007 during state violence at the time.

Released on January 10, 2008, they reported being beaten, verbally abused, intimidated, deprived of sleep and food, incarcerated in solitary confinement, and subjected to prolonged use of handcuffs and blindfolds.

In February 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that since December 2007, authorities routinely used torture to extract confessions, including:

1 -- electric shocks;

2 -- suspensions in painful positions;

3 -- beating feet with rubber hoses and/or batons;

4 -- kicking, punching, slapping, and striking detainees with implements;

5 -- forced standing for prolonged periods; and

6 -- threatened rape or death.

Experts say Bahrain's General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) bears most responsibility. It reports to the Interior Ministry, administering jails and detention facilities under the Justice Ministry's supervision.

A recent 2011 IHRC Report is titled "Emergency Briefing on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain," explaining widespread, systematic abuses ongoing for months in the latest crackdown. It covers:

1 -- mass arrests;

2 -- disappearances;

3 -- torture, other abuses, and ill-treatment;

4 -- extrajudicial killings;

5 -- use of repressive Saudi and Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) state forces;

6 -- purging political opposition;

7 -- suppressing intellectuals, students, doctors, nurses, journalists, other professionals, and activists;

8 -- marginalizing Shias;

9 -- attacking civil society;

10 -- sacking professional sportspeople; and

11 -- suppressing any effort challenging state authority.

In its May edition, Crescent Magazine headlined, "Acts of sacrilege, rape, torture and murder in Bahrain," discussing "indescribable crimes against innocent civilians," showing collusion with America and Saudi Arabia.

Bahraini and Saudi security forces, in fact, are committing "wanton acts of vandalism and sacrilege," including destroying mosques and desecrating the Holy Quran. Moreover, Bahraini forces committed one of the most shocking crimes against a 20-year old female poet named Ayat al-Qermezi.

In late March, state security forces arrested her. She was missing until confirmed hospitalized in a coma in mid-April, victimized by repeated rapes. She died after failed attempts to save her. Western media provided scant coverage. In Bahrain, brutality against her was suppressed. Al Jazeera also excluded her from its coverage.

Another disturbing case involved Ahlia University Professor Masaud Jahromi, Engineering Department Chairman. A highly respected academic, Bahraini security forces arrested him in the middle of the night on April 14 even though he wasn't involved in protests. Being Shia is his only crime, reason enough to arrest, torture and perhaps kill him.

Saudi and Bahraini security forces are brutalizing innocent civilians, their lives now a living hell. "Their neighborhoods are under constant surveillance; armored personnel carriers and tanks are stationed on every street corner with security personnel smashing cars and property" randomly to intimidate and terrorize.

Western media barely mention the most extreme acts of injustice, nor do leaders in Washington, London, Paris and other EU capitals, vilifying Gaddafi but ignoring the worst Bahraini abuses.

A final note

On May 8, trials for 21 arrested Bahrainis began, including seven in absentia, persecuted victims charged with plotting to overthrow the monarchy. All 14 defendants present pleaded innocent. Two international human rights observers were denied access to proceedings. However, representatives from a select few NGOs were present. Bail requests were rejected. Of concern are reports of torture in detention, and defendant Abdulhadi al-Khawaja saying in court:

"Today I was threatened in this place (meaning prison). My life is in danger."

Throughout their incarceration, they got no access to families or lawyers until 24 hours before trial for attorneys only, providing no time to prepare. Their ordeal is of no interest to Obama or official Washington.

Under conditions of martial law, their fate seems assured, guilty of wanting democratic freedoms, corruption ended, violence and state terror stopped, and state oil revenues used equitably for all Bahrainis. As a result, despite all they've endured so far, their ordeal likely just began unless sentenced to death to end it. Either way, will official Washington and Big Media notice?

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at; also visit his blog site at







Christopher Hill, a former U.S. secretary of state for east Asia who was ambassador to Iraq -- and usually a very obedient and un-eloquent American diplomat -- wrote the other day that "the notion that a dictator can claim the sovereign right to abuse his people has become unacceptable".

Unless, of course -- and Mr. Hill did not mention this -- you happen to live in Bahrain. On this tiny island, a Sunni monarchy, the al-Khalifas, rule a majority Shia population and have responded to democratic protests with death sentences, mass arrests, the imprisonment of doctors for letting patients die after protests and an "invitation" to Saudi forces to enter the country. They have also destroyed dozens of Shia mosques with all the thoroughness of a 9/11 pilot. But then, let's remember that most of the 9/11 killers were indeed Saudis.

And what do we get for it? Silence. Silence in the U.S. media, largely silence in the European press, silence from our own beloved CamerClegg and of course from the White House. And -- shame of shame -- silence from the Arabs who know where their bread is buttered. That means, of course, also silence from Al Jazeera. I often appear on their otherwise excellent Arabic and English editions, but their failure to mention Bahrain is shameful, a dollop of shit in the dignity that they have brought to reporting in the Middle East. The Emir of Qatar -- I know him and like him very much -- does not need to belittle his television empire in this way.

CamerClegg is silent, of course, because Bahrain is one of our "friends" in the Persian Gulf, an eager arms buyer, home to thousands of Brit expatriates who -- during the mini-revolution by Bahrain's Shia -- spent their time writing vicious letters to the local pro-Khalifa press denouncing Western journalists. And as for the demonstrators, I recall a young Shia woman telling me that if only the Crown Prince would come to the Pearl Roundabout and talk with the protesters, they would carry him on their shoulders around the square. I believed her. But he didn't come. Instead, he destroyed their mosques and claimed the protests were an Iranian plot -- which was never the case -- and destroyed the statue of the pearl at the roundabout, thus deforming the very history of his own country.

Obama, needless to say, has his own reasons for silence. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and the Americans don't want to be shoved out of their happy little port (albeit that they could up-sticks and move to the UAE or Qatar anytime they wish) and want to defend Bahrain from mythical Iranian aggression. So you won't find La Clinton, so keen to abuse the Assad family, saying anything bad about the al-Khalifas. Why on earth not? Are we all in debt to the Persian Gulf Arabs? They are honorable people and understand when criticism is said with good faith. But no, we are silent. Even when Bahraini students in Britain are deprived of their grants because they protested outside their London embassy, we are silent. CamerClegg, shame on you.

Bahrain has never had a reputation as a "friend" of the West, albeit that is how it likes to be portrayed. More than 20 years ago, anyone protesting the royal family's dominance risked being tortured in the security police headquarters. The head of it was a former British police Special Branch officer whose senior torturer was a pernicious major in the Jordanian army. When I published their names, I was rewarded with a cartoon in the government newspaper Al-Khaleej which pictured me as a rabid dog. Rabid dogs, of course, have to be exterminated. It was not a joke. It was a threat.

The al-Khalifas have no problems with the opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, however. They arrested one of its founders, Karim Fakhrawi, on 5 April. He died in police custody a week later. Ten days later, they arrested the paper's columnist, Haidar Mohamed al-Naimi. He has not been seen since. Again, silence from CamerClegg, Obama, La Clinton and the rest. The arrest and charging of Shia Muslim doctors for letting their patients die -- the patients having been shot by the "security forces", of course -- is even more vile. I was in the hospital when these patients were brought in. The doctors' reaction was horror mixed with fear -- they had simply never seen such close-range gunshot wounds before. Now they have been arrested, doctors and patients taken from their hospital beds. If this was happening in Damascus, Homs or Hama or Aleppo, the voices of CamerClegg, and Obama and La Clinton would be ringing in our ears. But no. Silence. Four men have been sentenced to death for killing two Bahraini policemen. It was a closed military court. Their "confessions" were aired on television, Soviet-style. No word from CamerClegg or Obama or La Clinton.

What is this nonsense? Well, I will tell you. It has nothing to do with the Bahrainis or the al-Khalifas. It is all about our fear of Saudi Arabia. Which also means it is about oil. It is about our absolute refusal to remember that 9/11 was committed largely by Saudis. It is about our refusal to remember that Saudi Arabia supported the Taliban, that Bin Laden was a Saudi, that the most cruel version of Islam comes from Saudi Arabia, the land of head-choppers and hand-cutters. It is about a conversation I had with a Bahraini official -- a good and decent and honest man -- in which I asked him why the Bahraini prime minister could not be elected by a majority Shia population. "The Saudis would never permit it," he said. Yes, our other friends. The Saudis.

(Source: The Independent)

Photo: The King of Bahrain has so far avoided the criticism of Western leaders



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